updated 8/1/2008 2:23:16 PM ET 2008-08-01T18:23:16

A week before the start of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese President Hu Jintao said Friday that the caliber of athletic competition and enhanced friendship among nations, not political disputes, will determine whether the games are a success.

In a rare interview with foreign media, the typically reserved Hu repeatedly said Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics was intended to underscore a rising China’s desire for peaceful, friendly interaction with the rest of the world.

Though Hu did not directly mention the controversies over China’s human rights lapses and restrictions on media coverage that have buffeted the event, he decried injecting political issues into the games and reminded reporters to report fairly.

“We hope that foreign reporters while in China will respect our laws and rules, report objectively and help communication and understanding between China and the peoples of the world,” Hu said.

The exchange was one of the few discordant notes in a carefully controlled encounter. The reporters, from about two dozen countries, were required to submit questions in advance. When Georg Blume of the German newspaper Die Zeit tried to pose a question at the end on human rights, Hu ignored him.

In his nearly six years as China’s top leader, Hu has been interviewed by foreign media only a handful of times. Friday’s meeting was designed to carry the same message Hu’s government’s hopes the Olympics will do for China — promote a friendlier face for the nation.

“The determining factor in securing the success of the Olympic Games is to work vigorously to promote the Olympic spirit featuring friendship, solidarity and peace,” Hu said. “The key is to ensure that athletes from all countries will have a level playing field to compete fairly.”

“We need to ensure that our friends from the five continents can further enhance their mutual understanding and deepen their friendship during the games,” Hu said.

Prodded by a question into displaying a more personal side, Hu said his favorite sports were swimming and table tennis and wished he could play for the Chinese team. “But I would like to let you know that since the lineup of the Chinese table tennis team is already finalized and made public it seems that my wish could not be granted.”

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