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China Faces Olympic Deadline, International Scrutiny


China hosts its first-ever Olympic Games in just six months. In Beijing, people are working hard to clean up the city, and to get ready to host the world's most prestigious sporting event. The city has undergone enormous changes in the seven-year buildup to the event, but human rights activists say the government has failed to live up to other Olympic promises. Sam Beattie reports.

Traffic on this road slows to a crawl on Saturdays and Sundays, as tourists clamber to pose for pictures in front of the National Stadium.

The stadium has been dubbed the "Bird's Nest," and for many Chinese, it is a symbol of their country's development.

One citizen, Jin Xianyong, says, "The architecture itself is not significant, but China holding the Olympics in 2008 shows the rise of China and will expose the whole world to 5,000 years of our culture."

Beijing Vice Mayor Chen Gang says China will spend around $1.8 billion to host the Olympics. But of the 31 venues needed for competition, only the National Stadium is yet to be completed.

And in the lead-up to the Games, the $486 million "Birds Nest" has become an iconic image at the heart of an official public relations campaign. It stresses the need for a harmonious society and the importance of the Olympics to the country.

But the official campaign has not convinced everyone.

Ai Weiwei is a contemporary Chinese artist who helped design the stadium.

"To send out wrong signals to themselves and to the world, that we are in such a cheerful mood or time, which we are not. If you look at China, at the newspapers each day, you find tremendous problems," he said.

Those problems include allegations of human rights abuse and media censorship. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders says China has jailed 51online dissidents -- more than any other country -- and last year blocked more than 2,500 Web sites.

Corinna-Barbara Francis of Amnesty International says China was only too happy to link human rights reform to the Olympics when it was trying to win the Olympic bid in 2001. She says it is now time to deliver on the promises.

"We still hope for the Chinese government to bring improvements that will then show the world it was a good gamble,” she said. “It has been many years and we still have not seen improvements. It's quite urgent at this point that the Chinese government bring some improvements before the games."

Questions to China's Foreign Ministry about the country's human rights record and its Olympic promises draw standard responses.

"The Chinese government position on this issue is very clear. It opposes the politicization of the Olympics because this counters the spirit and principles of the Olympic games,” Jiang Yu, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said. “The international community should oppose acts which obstruct the Olympic games."

Beijing has just six months left -- not only to ready itself for the athletes, but also to prepare for the intense scrutiny it will be under when an expected 20,000 journalists come to China to report on the world's largest sporting event.

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