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Beijing gears up for 2008

From CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime Florcruz

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Although the Beijing Olympics is still four years away, the Chinese capital is already gearing up to host the event.

The city of over 12 million is refurbishing ancient landmarks in the hopes of attracting visitors in a building frenzy whipped up by Athens fever.

"The Athens Olympics paid homage to the Greek history and culture... They used them to showcase Greece to the world, and I think that's a great concept," deputy director of the Palace Museum Jin Hongkiu says.

Chinese artisans are now giving a facelift to pavilions of the Forbidden City, the former residence of Chinese emperors. Beijing hopes its historical and cultural appeal can match that of Athens'.

When the Olympic logo was formally launched in Beijing's Temple of Heaven a year ago, Chinese organizers showed the world the kind of theatrical spectacles they are capable of producing.

And Beijing, like Athens, is using the Olympics as motivation to improve its infrastructure.

"Athens has stimulated the city's development by improving its infrastructure for the Olympic games," Jiang Xiaoyu, the Vice-President of the Beijing organizing committee, says.

Beijing's traffic congestion will be relieved even though more than three million extra cars are expected to hit the road in four years. Beijing is improving traffic management, and is adding 300 kilometers (186 miles) of subway lines.

Beijing is encouraging public bus operators to use liquefied natural gas, part of a so-called "green campaign" to curb air pollution.

Chinese organizers are also reviewing blueprints and budgets of Olympic venues in another lesson learned from Athens.

They have stopped construction of the Olympic stadium to rethink designs and cut costs, which is expected to breach the original 1.6 billion dollar budget.

"Any budgetary adjustment is aimed at organizing a better and more frugal Olympics. The Chinese government's principle is, spend less ... accomplish more," Jiang says.

With four years to go, few doubt that Beijing has the means to finish its venues and infrastructure. The nagging question is, will it be able to pull off an Olympics that is as hospitable to athletes and spectators as Athens has been.

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