China's preparations for the 2008 Olympics shift into fast gear

BEIJING: China's preparations for the 2008 Olympics are on schedule and going smoothly, Games officials said yesterday as the clock ticked to exactly two years before the opening ceremony. 

Construction of Olympic venues, the signing of sponsors, curbing the city's traffic woes and even efforts to improve the manners of local citizens are on target, Beijing Organising Committee for the Games (BOCOG) officials said. 

“Under the full support of our government and people, all types of preparation work for the Beijing Olympic Games are going smoothly, according to schedule,” BOCOG secretary general Wang Wei told reporters. 

ALL EARS: Eight-year oldLi Kexin performsfan-dance with elderlywomen at a park whereactivities are held tomark a two-yearcountdownto the 2008Olympic Games inBeijing yesterday. –REUTERSpic

“The conditions for Beijing holding a successful Olympics are becoming more and more mature.” 

Wang said work on all 37 competition and 76 training venues would be finished by the end of 2007.  

China's financial goals are also being met with revenue from the Games expected to exceed original targets, Wang said, insisting that the pirating of Olympic goods would not put a big dent in earnings. 

And while the city is suffering from increasing traffic and pollution problems, Wang and other officials expressed confidence in measures to reduce the number of cars in Beijing during the Games. 

Jiang Xiaoyu, a BOCOG executive vice president, said people would be encouraged to use public transport and did not rule out ordering most cars off the roads entirely. 

Despite marking another grey, murky and humid summer day yesterday, BOCOG officials even claimed they were confident of good weather for the same time in 2008. 

Organisers have studied historical weather data in Beijing and determined rain will not spoil the event, Jiang said. 

Wang said people's civility was also improving, referring to bad habits such as pushing and spitting. 

City authorities launched a campaign this year to improve people's manners, which involved more than 4.3 million Beijing families receiving a guide on civilization and etiquette. 

On the ability to handle the massive influx of visitors, Wang also said China would be ready. 

While there is no exact estimate on how many people will descend on the Chinese capital, he expressed confidence the city's hotels alone could cater for more than 500,000 visitors, not to mention the many university dormitories. 

Jiang also promised to accommodate the thousands of foreign journalists who will not only want to cover the Games but a variety of stories on China, including those the government might find unflattering. 

“If there are differences between our practices and international norms and Olympic norms (in treatment of journalists), we will align ourselves with international norms,” said Jiang. 

But he added: “Of course, all media will have to abide by Chinese laws and regulations.” 

While BOCOG's assessment was predictably upbeat, International Olympic Committee chiefs have also repeatedly said they are happy. 

However, traffic and pollution continue to be top concerns for locals, who are forced to endure some of the worst environmental conditions in the world. 

“Hosting the Olympics is a great thing but I don't think we're completely ready for it yet,” said 71-year-old local Zhang Jianhua. 

“Air pollution is very bad and traffic congestion is very inconvenient to people. We have to strengthen supervision on environmental protection, sanitation and the level of civilization,” Zhang said. 

Another potential concern has been corruption, which the government has publicly conceded plagues all levels of Chinese society. 

A former Beijing vice mayor in charge of overseeing construction for the Olympics remains under investigation for graft after being detained in June. 

The opening ceremony of the Olympics is set for 8:00 pm on Aug 8, 2008, reflecting the number eight's status as the most auspicious number in the Middle Kingdom's long history. 

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