Beijing will host some 500,000 to 800,000 foreign visitors during the Games [GALLO/GETTY]

Beijing erupted in fireworks and cheering at the start of 2008, as the Chinese capital kicked off an Olympic year that the country's leaders hope will showcase the achievements of three decades of economic reforms.

 

New Year celebrations saw a huge party in the west of the city, put on by the organisers of the summer Olympics and including performances from a range of celebrities including action movie star Jackie Chan.

 

With 220 days left until the opening of the games, the party capped a year of frenzied construction which has changed the face of the Chinese capital.

 

An estimated $40bn has been spent on venues and other projects - including several new metro lines - ahead of the games.

 

World showcase

 

The Olympics will showcase China's modern
side and its achievements [AFP]
Just one major project, the so-called 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium, remains to be completed after scores of migrant labourers worked around the clock to complete Olympic venues.

 

China is looking to the Olympics to show off the modern face of the country, 30 years after the introduction of free market economic reforms.

 

"We will show the world 5,000 years of splendid Chinese history, the significant achievements of modern China and the zeitgeist of the Chinese people," said a New Year's Day editorial in the People's Daily, the traditional mouthpiece of the ruling communist party.

 

"This is the year that 1.3 billion sons and daughters of China have been ardently expecting, the year when more of the world's gaze will be fixed on China, the year that will be etched into the history of the People's Republic," it added.

 

But in the final run-up to the games the issue of pollution remains a major question mark, with the Chinese capital frequently clouded in a thick industrial haze.

 

Recently the head of the International Olympic Committee warned that unless the issue is addressed, major endurance events such as the marathon may be postponed or cancelled to protect athletes' health.

 

Chinese officials say they will guarantee clean air for the games, pledging to shut down factories, freeze building projects and even restrict car usage if necessary.

 

The Summer Games will kick off in 220 days in August [AFP]

Source: Agencies