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Beijing talks sweet in bid for Olympics

Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2001

MOSCOW -- Chinese officials are saying all the right things leading up to the vote for the host city of the 2008 Summer Games.

While critics of China's rule of Tibet urged IOC members Tuesday to reject Beijing, Chinese officials said the Olympics would promote change in the country, improve its environment and even help world peace.

Three days before Friday's vote by International Olympic Committee members, Beijing was still the front-runner ahead of Toronto and Paris, with Istanbul, Turkey, and Osaka, Japan, as long shots.

''The Olympic Games will be a catalyst to further change. I can't say how much, but it will really help,'' senior Beijing bid official Tu Mingde said. ''I think IOC members understand it's a challenge. We will try our best to win their confidence.''

Beijing's arguments that the Olympics are not merely a big sports event but can also be a force for good are thought to appeal to many IOC members. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the committee's outgoing president, is among those, for example, who say that holding the 1988 Olympics in South Korea helped spur that Asian nation's transformation from military dictatorship to democracy.

No one -- Chinese officials included -- is claiming that an IOC vote Friday for Beijing will bring democracy to China. But by holding out promises -- however vague -- that the games will spur progress in the world's most populous nation, Chinese officials are hoping to give the 100-plus IOC members a powerful incentive to pick Beijing and appeal to their sense of history.

At a news conference Tuesday, Tibetan and Russian activists said it was naive to think the games would soften Beijing's intolerance of dissent, and pointed to the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a grim precedent.

''Did that get humanity very far, this policy?'' said Sergei Kovalyov, a member of the Russian parliament.

If the Beijing bid wins, ''they will, I think, take it as a license for more repression,'' said Ngavan Gelek, chairman of the Tibetan Culture and Information Center in Moscow.

The activists charged that China is exerting strong pressure to muffle them even abroad. Chinese Embassy officials tried to force cancellation of the news conference and exiled Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng was to have come to Moscow to support Beijing's opponents, but was denied a visa -- apparently because of Chinese influence, they said.

''If they can't allow one person from America (where Wei lives) to come here, how can we expect a good Olympics in 2008?'' shouted Karma Yesha of the Tibetan Youth Congress, an India-based group.

Wei has been a pawn in Olympic politics before. During Beijing's last and only previous Olympic bid in 1993 for the 2000 games, China released Wei from jail just days before the IOC vote, in what was seen as a clumsy effort to improve the communist government's international image. Not long after Beijing lost to Sydney by two votes, Wei was rearrested.

This time, Beijing has hired major Western public relations firms to help promote its bid. Hopes that some well-known imprisoned dissidents may win release ahead of Friday's vote are fading. China said Tuesday that the trial of an American business professor accused of spying for Taiwan will begin on Saturday, the day after the crucial IOC vote.

The Tibetan activists plan to hold a protest demonstration on Friday outside the meeting site before the IOC votes, but organizers said it is expected to consist of only about 100 people.



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