The National Stadium, a model of which is shown here, will serve as the primary facility for activities at the Beijing Olympics. It has become known as "The Nest."

China heads into
overdrive to renovate
for Olympics

First of two parts

BEIJING >> The Olympic Games are still a few years away, but the push to modernize this ancient city is in full swing.


Shops and restaurants are being renovated , as workers put up colorful signs and lay on coats of paint. Giant construction cranes loom everywhere . In some areas, navigating around torn-up sidewalks and roadways can be a challenge in this bustling city of 14 million people as it prepares for the 2008 Games.

At the headquarters of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad , Wang Wei, vice president and secretary general of the organizing committee , recounts some accomplishments this year, which include launching a marketing plan and the official logo of the Beijing Olympics. The bright red emblem, known as "Dancing Beijing," is designed like a Chinese "chop," or seal.

"This is first of all a Chinese seal, a traditional way of making a commitment to doing something, to host a great Games," explains Wang, sporting the emblem in the lapel of his suit. Wang says the human-like figure inside the seal "may represent an athlete -- like in the 100 (meter) sprint, dashing to the final line."

He notes how the arms appear outstretched, as if in victory or in greeting. It could also represent a host, he says -- "a Beijing or Chinese (person) welcoming the whole world to the games." Wang points out, "In traditional Chinese calligraphy, it's the letter (character) of 'jing,' representing Beijing, the capital city."

The emblem's color is also symbolic. Red is the most significant color in Chinese culture -- the color of happiness, celebration, luck and new beginnings. It's also recognized as the color that symbolizes China.

Wang says the new logo represents Chinese art and history. "The more you look at it, the more lively and likable," he says with a laugh.

International Olympic Committee President Jacque Rogge was quoted in the official Games newsletter as saying: "For leading global companies, the Games will open the gates to the most important market in the world."

The first company authorized to use the Beijing 2008 Olympic emblem on its products was Coca-Cola.

Wang estimates that it will cost at least $16 billion to operate the Games, a budget that will be revised after the 2004 Athens Olympics. The U.S. Commercial Service estimates that Beijing will spend more than $23 billion to prepare for the Games , improving the city's infrastructure, energy sources and environment.

Long considered one of the most polluted cities in the world, Beijing is improving its air quality . The city is spending $12 billion to tackle environmental issues. It plans to cut back coal-burning pollution, prevent sandstorms through reforestation projects in the surrounding mountains and plains, and create a greener and cleaner Beijing.

Opportunities for foreign participation exist in the construction of 35 Olympic venues , five of which will be outside the city. Of the 30 others, 19 will be built from scratch.

"We are in the process of attending to design, investment and operation, even after the games," Wang says. "Foreign companies have more experience in operating sports facilities, although very few of them are actually making money. A big issue for China, for Beijing, is how we can keep those venues profitable after the games. That's a big challenge."

Wang says by the end of this year, organizers will be preparing to start construction on four of its venues -- the National Stadium, the National Swimming Center, the Laoshan Velodrome (for cycling) and the Shooting Range.

At the organizing committee's headquarters, sleek models of the venues are on display in a miniature Olympic park.

The National Stadium is a graceful, circular shape, fashioned after a bird's nest, with beams curving around it supporting the structure, like interwoven twigs. From afar, it looks like a spaceship with a retractable roof. "The Nest," or main stadium, will be used for opening and closing ceremonies and athletic competition. Swiss and Chinese architects came up with the design.

The National Swimming Center, dubbed the "The Watercube," resembles a simple blue square.

Wang says organizers plan to promote environmental high technology and foresees pollution-free vehicles cruising around the Olympic Village. Parts of the park will be reforested around lakes and ponds.

Wang hopes the games will showcase Beijing as a new city. "With the Games coming to Beijing, the world will have a window to see Beijing from a new perspective, because somehow the world sees Beijing differently from what we are in reality," he says. By strengthening the cooperation or friendship between people, Wang believes "the prestige of the country and the city will be enhanced."

One million visitors are expected to attend the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, with 10,500 athletes expected to compete, accompanied by an entourage of nearly 8,000 people. That raises the question: Where are they all going to stay?

Presently, Beijing has about 570 star-rated hotels. Officials say the city will need to build more than 200 hotels in time for the Games. That will provide a total of about 130,000 rooms.

Earlier this year, Games organizers signed contracts with the Olympic Broadcasting Service Co. owned by the IOC. Since the Games are the most widely covered sports event in the world, there's a lot at stake. Officials estimate that 20,000 to 30,000 members of the international media will be swooping in for the Beijing 2008 Summer Games.

CNN's Beijing Bureau chief and correspondent, Jaime FlorCruz, is originally from the Philippines but has lived in China for more than 30 years. He already has a ringside seat and has been covering the city's transformation.

"The single-minded drive to modernize, speeded up by the preparations for the 2008 Olympiad, is like a giant wrecking ball," FlorCruz says. "Officials, when faced with the choice of tearing down a community or preserving it, have little incentive to stop that wrecking ball. Much money is involved, thanks to eager real estate developers. Much face is involved. Officials are rated according to how much GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate and tax revenues they generate, and how many investors they attracted and many skyscrapers they built in the area -- not by how well they preserved culture and protected the environment and improved people's quality of life."

Along with modernization comes a price. And it's not easy finding a balance.

"The Old Beijing was designed with closely knit family clans and communities in mind," FlorCruz says. "Thus, the narrow, grid-like lanes and the 'hutongs.' There, extended families could live a quiet life behind the walls of their courtyard. But when they step out of the yards, they walk into a vibrant neighborhood where you have vendors and mom-and-pop shops selling daily necessities, residents playing parlor games or simply shooting the breeze. Now, residents are being uprooted, and they're not happy about it."

But FlorCruz sounds optimistic about the future. "Beijing is planning to spend $20 billion for the makeover of the city in the run-up to 2008. It will bring faster, perhaps cleaner, transport, thousands of new hotel rooms and gleaming sports facilities," he says. "It may also bring cleaner air. ... Some 200 polluting factories will be relocated. Many taxis and buses will switch to natural gas. Subway lines will be extended. All these are good news to me and, I believe, to most Beijing residents."

So how are some Beijing residents coping with change? According to Allen Cheng, the Beijing economics correspondent for South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's English-language newspaper, "Most people are putting up with the hassles of living with 24-hour construction: All new buildings, including residential, commercial, must be completed by 2006."

Cheng has also witnessed many protests over evictions. "The government is quite heavy-handed, and corruption among land developers and officials is quite serious." But, he says, if people "complain too loud, they get hauled away. Sad stories abound here."

Cheng says, "Beijing will be a beautiful city by 2008, but in the meantime it is a big construction site."

>> Tomorrow: How Hawaii companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities offered by the Beijing Olympics.


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