Sports venues are under construction at full speed in and around the city, and Beijing itself is receiving a lavish makeover to impress the millions of foreigners expected to attend.
China gave numerous promises to improve the human rights situation, and freedom of the press, when it won the right to stage the Olympics; but little has actually happened.
Beyond the world of sport, there is also the key question of security for the Games. This will give Chinese authorities the opportunity to build closer ties to the international community -- and possibly also to crack down harder on domestic dissent.
A 'Huge Showcase'
Xu Bo, the head of the Olympic "Project 2008," says the next 12 months will be critical for China's aim to create the best games of modern times. Some $40 billion is being spent to prepare Beijing to host the 29th Summer Olympics.
Some $1.5 billion alone is being spent on rejuvenating the sprawling city, by refurbishing 20,000 buildings, including restoring sections of the old town, clearing slums, and creating parks. It's hoped that the city's notoriously bad air quality can also be improved.
Christian Lemiere, a senior China analyst with Jane's strategic information organization, says Chinese leaders see the games as a crucial element in creating a new profile for modern China.
"There's no doubt that the government sees this as a huge showcase for modern China, the China which has been growing economically at double-digit rates for the last 25 or 26 years," Lemiere says. "So it is using the Beijing Olympics not only as a means of displaying national pride, but also [as] a means of demonstrating to the international community China's ability to hold such events."
Aware that the games could be a prime target for terrorist attacks by extremists from many ideological backgrounds, the Olympic Security Command Center in early January founded an International Liaison Department. Its job will be to improve cooperation with the police and intelligence services of other countries.
Lemiere says China will be looking to previous Olympic host countries for advice on security matters.
"The Olympics will bring a lot of international attention to China, particularly Beijing, and will allow greater cooperation in terms of security with other countries," Lemiere says. "In particular, China will be looking to other countries which have held Olympics in the past, like Australia, to gain as much expertise in event security as it can."
Another obvious choice for Beijing to approach is Japan and South Korea, which jointly staged the massive football World Cup tournament in 2006.
Quiang Wei, head of the Olympic security coordination group, says a safe Games cannot be achieved without international cooperation. As part of this effort, China is also in contact with the international police organization Interpol, and is seeking organizational advice from national police forces.
Lemiere says, however, that China will likely be disappointed if it hopes to gain access to wide-ranging foreign intelligence information.
"As to how much intelligence and information other agencies will be willing to give to China, this remains questionable given the concerns of spying [by China] in various countries," Lemiere says. "Hence, while there will be cooperation between China and other countries in terms of training or coaching of security forces to deal with event security, the actual material available to China will be limited."
Apart from thwarting potential terrorists, the Chinese security people will also be looking to keep the streets of the capital free of pickpockets and vagrants.
But there is another category that could stir trouble for the Chinese authorities -- namely China's suppressed dissidents. Any demonstration or incident connected with the human rights movement would be acutely embarrassing for the Chinese leadership.
Corinna-Barbara Francis of Amnesty International says there's evidence the authorities are already active to ensure nothing of that sort happens.
"There's been a serious crackdown on a whole range of human rights defenders in China already," Francis says. "The Chinese government has been preparing for [these Games] for years, and nothing happens by accident."
Francis says Amnesty International has reports of a manual being printed for police on how to deal with foreign journalists who want to interview people the authorities don't approve of.
She recalls that China gave numerous undertakings to improve the human rights situation, and freedom of the press, when it won the right to stage the Olympics; but little has actually happened.
"We feel quite disappointed that the initial hope of improvements do not appear to be showing themselves, yet we remain hopeful that such progress will still appear by the time of the Games," Francis says.
The 2008 Summer Olympics will run from August 8-24.
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