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China’s Olympic Games Projects not as “Clean” as Promised

When Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics, officials promised “clean” Games, both in terms of corruption and the environment. While the city has met a number of its goals, many argue Beijing still has a ways to go.

Just recently, China’s Communist Party ousted its vice mayor of Olympics construction, Liu Zhihua, for taking bribes of several million Yuan (equal to hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars) and allowing his mistress to profit off development projects.

Beijing has earmarked $38 billion for “urban renewal” before the 2008 Olympics, and many say the development projects are riddled with corruption.

Nicholas Becquelin of Human Rights in China remarked that “in a system so opaque, there are huge avenues for corruption,” especially among “city authorities and wealthy developers eager to profit.” Recently, another construction executive went on trial for bribery and embezzlement in Beijing.

In 2004, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that “China’s General Administration of Sports … misappropriated more than $20 million … and money allocated for projects went into the hands of local authorities and businessmen.” The article speculates that the situation will improve as China opens up, but that the Communist Party is still essentially above the law and unlikely to make any major changes.

Olympics-related development has also led to a number of forced evictions to make way for construction, most of the time without legal redress or compensation. Various human rights groups have called on the Beijing authorities to stop such corrupt practices, and several organizations have Olympics watch pages on their websites to monitor the city’s progress–or lack thereof. Such groups also call on China to end media/ Internet censorship and allow trade unions before the Games begin.

As the Olympics draw nearer and the world pays increasing attention to China, officials continue to promise the 2008 Games will be “clean,” that the Olympics committee will tighten auditing and monitoring efforts, and that an “anti-corruption drive” is underway. Few mention specifics, though.

It will be interesting to see if corruption prevention becomes a grand but empty promise or is carried out with determination and success, as the government has demonstrated in other aspects of the Olympics. Time will tell if the country will use this opportunity to make serious improvements or fall back on corruption and exploitation.

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