153 days – the countdown to the Beijing Olympics has begun. The Chinese Government’s Olympic race has been going on at a frantic pace. According to the Chinese Government reports, Beijing will spend around $37 billion to build new stadiums and other Games-related infrastructure, including new subway lines and an airport terminal. This is an amount four times the cost of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. But, in a nation where tens of millions of people live on less than $1 a day, many citizens have criticized the spending as wasteful. Other Chinese citizens are angered by forced relocations, work stoppages and other costs which the citizens are paying for Beijing’s makeover. Some Chinese folks have directed indignation at a national theater which opened in the heart of Beijing in December. The $400 million building is covered almost entirely in titanium, one of the world’s most expensive metals, and will cost $13,000 in daily operating fees, according to Chinese media. There has been widespread public discontent, as they feel such extravagant expenses do not serve them good. They feel that the Olympics has become a show to advertise the achievements of the communist party. The Government has guaranteed a clear climate for the Games against rains by dispersing away clouds artificially. But a more serious problem is the pollution. Until recently, thick smog was a regular feature of the Beijing skyline.
To cut pollution, a new standard for car emissions will be enforced from March 1, falling in line with the latest European Union standard. A new type of less-polluting petrol will be available too. Cars and buses that fail the checks will be banned from the streets. More than 1,300 petrol stations in Beijing are being upgraded to cut fumes and the rest will be shut down.
In addition, the Chinese authorities have ordered five provinces around Beijing to join the efforts and reduce industrial activity for two months before the Games. From July, both Beijing and Tianjin, its neighboring city, will restrict private car use, allowing only odd or even registration numbers to go out on any given day.
Further, during the Olympics, officials will order factories in the city and surrounding provinces to shut down, largely without compensation. China hopes such drastic measures can reassure foreign delegations that there will be no heavy pollution to harm their athletes.
Human rights have become a major issue in the run up to the August games. There has been mass forceful eviction of people and closure of factories.
The poor of rural China have not benefited from the Olympics. There are still millions living on less than 1$ a day in majority of its provinces, though the infrastructure segment in the urban regions where games are scheduled to be held has grown at a rapid pace.
According to the Geneva based Center on Housing rights and Eviction (COHRE), more than 1 million people had already been displaced since August 2007 due to urban related infrastructure development and a further 1.5 million shall be displaced by the time Games begin.
China has been ruled by a single powerful party and it is doubtful whether they imbibe the true spirit of the Games. The Olympic spirit encompasses the spirit of participation, equality, friendship, healthy competition and solidarity.
Here, the Chinese have found a perfect opportunity to alleviate themselves to a higher stature in the world given that the Olympic spirit is allowed to rein free. The Chinese may require the Olympic Games as a shot in the arm, but more than that, what they truly require is human rights.
[Image Source : http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=Beijing+Olympics]