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What the Games mean for 'New China'

Boys playing football in front of a logo for Beijing's bid for the 2001 Olympic Games
Beijing is considered the front-runner in the competition which includes Paris, Toronto, Osaka and Istanbul  

By Willy Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

HONG KONG, China -- An Olympic nod for Beijing marks the Middle Kingdom's formal entry to the community of modern nations.

Perhaps even more than accession to the World Trade Organization, Olympic status means China can fully interact with the Western world despite its authoritarian government and suppression of dissent.

Billions of dollars of infrastructure building and related activities are expected to boost annual GDP by 0.3 percent.

The unprecedented global attention on China -- and investment funds going the country's way -- will buttress the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership's determination to build a "China century."

The big question on the minds of Asians and Westerners alike is: will China's newfound status as Olympic host prompt the leadership to hasten political reform?

Jiang's legacy

The answer is no -- at least for the short term.

In an internal discussion on the Beijing bid, President Jiang Zemin pointed that out a victory for Beijing would confirm the correctness of the Chinese model of development. Asia
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"It's true socialist countries worldwide are going through a low tide," a Jiang adviser reportedly said. "However, WTO and Olympic status for China means our strategy of Western-style economic development coupled with one-party rule is correct."

Jiang sees the Olympic crown as vindication for his 12-year policy of fast-paced economic reform and a near-freeze on political liberalization.

Hosting the Games, in addition to WTO accession and improvement of ties with the U.S. will be cited by CCP historians as evidence of the success of Jiang's "great power diplomacy."

No restriction to press

The main job of the Chinese media in the coming year or so is to propagate Jiang Theory, which has very little to say on the Olympic spirit of freedom of competition and humanitarianism.

Secretary-general of the Beijing bid organizing committee, Wang Wei, said in Moscow a nod for Beijing would mean "enhancement [in China] in education, medical benefits, as well as human rights."

Policewomen practice removing caps
Policewomen practice outside the Workers' Stadium. The Stadium will be slated for soccer games if Beijing wins  

Wang also pledged there would be no restrictions on the foreign press going to Beijing in 2008.

Diplomatic analysts in Beijing say the only way the Olympic bid will influence political reform is through a kind of a trickle down effect.

"Preparations for the Olympics, particularly when coupled with WTO accession, will mean more inflow of funds and new ideas from the West," an Asian diplomat said.

"Society, culture and lifestyle will become more pluralistic. And eventually, there will be an impact on political reform as the pressure on the party to change will become heavier by 2008." Other analysts say the most positive fallout from a successful Olympics bid for Beijing may have to do with Taiwan.

It is most unlikely the Chinese leadership will stage high-profile war games or otherwise rattle the saber against Taipei in the run-up to 2008.

Head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council Tsai Ying-wen said Olympic success for Beijing "may help stabilize the region and facilitate the inclusion of mainland [China] into the international family as a responsible member."

Chinese leaders have indicated there is the possibility of a joint mainland-Taiwan effort in hosting individual sports events in 2008.

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