BEIJING — In this developing country hurtling into the future at break-neck speed, there are many things which are likely to happen in 2008: from more scrutiny paid to the quality of Chinese exports, to addressing China's environmental problems caused by years focused on double digit growth.
But during a recent drive to work, I was reminded that 2008 is really about only one thing: the Summer Olympics in China.
While driving into the NBC News Beijing bureau on a day of rare snowfall, I looked out the right side window of my car and saw a handful of men slipping and struggling to correctly position a 50 foot tree that was being lowered by crane into its new location.
The sight of that one tree made me notice the dozens of others already transplanted in an effort to dress up Beijing which is hosting the Olympic games this summer. And the sight of the men struggling with that large tree in the snow was a good reminder of China’s determination to put on an impressive setting for the games right down to dressing up the highways for visitors.
No expense spared
A record amount of money has been spent preparing China to host the Olympics. In fact, it’s hard to find anything that has been done on the cheap. Whether its extensive road renovation, changing wrongly translated street signs known as Chinglish, moving smoggy factories away from the city center, or even funding a charm school for some of the almost 70,000 Chinese volunteers who will serve as goodwill ambassadors – no expense has been spared.
A show to remember
China has enlisted expensive international architects to design sporting arenas and called on a who's who in the entertainment industry to create a memorable opening ceremony. There's even a plan for the weather. If rain is needed to help wash the skies of smog or cloud busting rockets are in order, Beijing has it covered.
Blue skies for Beijing
Our prediction is that Beijing's sometimes dreadful pollution won’t be a factor during the games. As much as we see US based columnists writing of Beijing's pollution problems, those of us who live here notice something that always seems to happen whenever there is an important event or visitor in town. The factories seem to be switched off and the weather is fantastic. With so many people looking and so much money already spent getting ready, I can’t imagine that changing for the games.
The ultimate game
In addition to all the games going on at venues across China, a global PR contest will be waged in 2008 between two formidable players: China, which hopes to use the world spotlight to showcase everything they believe is good about this country versus global activists, who hope to use that same attention to highlight everything they believe China is doing wrong. Who will win? With the adage there's no such thing as bad publicity, perhaps both sides will.
Mark Mullen is an NBC News correspondent based in Beijing, China. Click here to see how well Mark's predictions for 2007 worked out.