The 2008 Olympics’ Impact on China
Just as the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1988 Seoul Olympics propelled Japan and South Korea onto the global stage, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games will be China’s “coming out” party—an event that showcases China’s maturation into a great economic and, to a lesser extent, political power. As PRC Premier Wen Jiabao noted on April 24 this year, the Beijing Olympics present an opportunity for China to show the world how “democratic, open, civilized, friendly, and harmonious” it is.
Quick Glance •After winning its 2001 bid to host the Olympic Games, China launched a massive seven-year effort to prepare for the event. •The huge inflows of investment to support the Olympics and recreate Beijing have had an important ripple effect on economic growth. •Though China has experienced some significant hardships this spring, the games will probably be even more important to the country than initially expected.
The 2008 Olympics will be among the most expansive ever held, with 16 days of competition from August 8 to 24 in 28 sports inside 37 arenas for 302 gold medals. In addition to Beijing, six other cities will host Olympic events—Hong Kong; Qingdao, Shandong; Qinhuangdao, Hebei; Shanghai; Shenyang, Liaoning; and Tianjin—making the Olympics a national event. China has embraced the basic ideals of the Olympics with its own slogan, “One World, One Dream,” and has widely promoted a green and high-tech Olympics.
To prepare for the games, China invested nearly $40 billion in infrastructure alone from 2002 to 2006, transformed the cityscape of Beijing, made national stars out of PRC Olympic champions—such as high hurdler Liu Xiang and platform diver Guo Jingjing—and created a great sense of excitement and anticipation among the public. Furthermore, the Olympics have had a significant influence on Beijing’s economic development, environment, and the growth of the country’s advertising, television, Internet, mobile phone, clean energy, and sports sectors. Building on 30 years of economic reform nd opening and on the substantial economic impact of China’s 2001 World Trade Organization (WTO) entry, the excitement surrounding the games is pulling many of these sectors onto the international cutting edge.
Building a new Beijing After winning the bid to host the 2008 Olympics, China began a massive seven-year effort to meet IOC’s demanding conditions for the games. Having researched earlier Olympic games, in particular the Sydney and Atlanta games, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) began the enormous task of creating an infrastructure that could support such a massive sporting event.
To integrate the activities of key central government ministries, the Beijing Municipal Government, and BOCOG, the PRC government created a high-level working group directed by then-Executive Vice Premier Li Lanqing and, since March 2008, by Xi Jinping, PRC vice president and number six in the Politburo Standing Committee. As Michael Payne, who served as IOC’s top marketer for more than 20 years, wrote in Olympic Turnaround, China recognized that a critical factor in creating a successful Olympics would be careful coordination among IOC, BOCOG, and the host city.
China studied the example of the Atlanta games, where coordination between the operating committee and the city government was poor, according to Payne. To ensure better coordination, BOCOG was staffed primarily with Beijing Municipal Government officials and General Administration of Sports experts, and was led by Beijing Party Secretary Liu Qi and then-Mayor (now Vice Premier) Wang Qishan. The Beijing Olympics Action Plan, announced by BOCOG President Liu Qi in March 2002, mandated not only sweeping plans to build stadiums and facilities for the Olympics, but a makeover of Beijing itself.
In implementing the plan, Beijing made every effort to abide by international tendering standards and to avoid favoritism. It also imposed the template of IOC’s global Olympic programs onto the Beijing Olympic program. Some of the projects in which China has invested to prepare for the games include the following: Sports facilities China planned (in some cases, with foreign architects) and built the Olympic Park and the 37 stadiums and venues that will host Olympic events.
These include 32 buildings in Beijing—19 new and 13 refurbished—and venues in five other Chinese cities—a sailing center in Qingdao and soccer stadiums in Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, Shenyang, and Shanghai. China also constructed 59 training centers and infrastructure projects for the Paralympic Games, to be held in Beijing in September 2008 following the Olympics. Beijing’s stadiums, in particular the National Stadium (or “Bird’s Nest”), are state of the art and well designed, and they will be available for use long after the games are over.
Transportation and infrastructure According to Liu Zhi, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Development and Reform Commission, from 2002 through the beginning of the games, Beijing will spend $1. 1 billion on transportation improvements, such as building and extending Beijing’s subway system, completing the city’s light rail system, and constructing and refurbishing more than 318 km of city streets—including 23 roads in and around the Olympics sites, two new ring roads around the city, and high-tech traffic control systems.
The city has also built an enormous new airport terminal at the Beijing Capital International Airport and extended the toll road to the airport. Urban renewal According to Beijing’s 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), Beijing will spend more than $200 million to demolish dilapidated housing and urban buildings; refurbish 25 historic areas, including many of the city’s landmarks, old streets, and beautiful, four-corner residences that date from the imperial period; and restore Beijing’s many historic places, including the Forbidden City. High technology
China’s capital has budgeted $3. 6 billion to transform Beijing into a “digital” city by 2008, with widespread use of digital and broadband telecommunications, wireless transmission and networking technologies, and “intelligent technologies,” including smart cards. An Olympic lift Beijing’s hosting of the Olympic games has already had a knock-on effect, spurring faster growth or change in several areas. Tourism The number of tourists in Beijing has risen rapidly, a result of the increased visibility that the Olympics bring to the host country. Though stimates of the number of people who will visit China during the Olympics—or even the number of people who will visit China this year—vary significantly, it is clear that the games are a magnet for tourists.
Chen Jian, president of the Beijing Olympic Economic Research Association, estimated in the spring that Beijing will receive roughly 600,000 foreign visitors and 2. 5 million domestic Chinese tourists during the Olympic games and that the number of foreign tourists in Beijing will grow 8 to 9 percent annually in the decade following the games because of the games themselves. According to the China National Tourism Administration, Beijing had 3. 8 million foreign visitor arrivals in 2007, up 11. 8 percent over 2006, and China had 42. 4 million foreign visitor arrivals last year, up 20. 8 percent over 2006. ) The number of hotels in Beijing has also jumped in recent years.
Since China entered the WTO and won its Olympic bid, the country has reduced hotel ownership restrictions. Starting in 2002, foreign investors could own a majority stake in hotels, and in 2006, wholly foreign-owned hotels were permitted. These moves cleared the way for an extensive expansion of foreign-owned hotels and other tourism facilities.
Environmental improvements Every Beijing resident is keenly aware of the city’s environmental challenges. Air quality, particularly in the summer, can be less than optimal, with particulate matter at alarmingly high levels. Though Beijing has taken steps to improve air quality, such as ordering coal-burning power plants to reduce emissions, construction projects to halt during the period around the Olympic games, and 200 heavily polluting factories to move out of the city, air quality will remain a worry for the athletes who participate in the games.
Under the Beijing Sustainable Development Plan, China launched 20 projects to improve the quality of Beijing’s environment, with an overall investment of $12. 2 billion. The city has established new wastewater treatment plants, solid-waste processing facilities, and green belts and built a fleet of clean buses for the games. Beijing has phased out ozone-depleting substances ahead of schedule, made use of water- or air-source heat pump systems to save energy in Olympic stadiums, replaced 47,000 old taxis and 7,000 diesel buses, and began requiring vehicles to meet EU emissions standards.