The Beijing Olympics will kick-off in exactly one year from today, and final preparations are under way to celebrate the countdown at one of China’s most famous landmarks, the Tiananmen Square.
The world’s biggest sporting event has also afforded an opportunity for political activists to exert pressure on China over its domestic and foreign interests.
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey looks at how the 2008 Beijing Olympics is being used to try and change China’s policies.
But with the prestige of the Olympics comes scrutiny of the host country.
Activists are already holding demonstrations, using the games to call attention to what they say are human rights abuses in China.
“We are not against the games,” one protester says. “We are supporting the idea that the games must be free, fair and a good opportunity to improve the human rights situation in China.”
And China is already cracking down on dissent.
“They’re basically abusing and silencing the Chinese population and also we have seen an increase in arrests in the run-up to the Olympics because they want to silence everyone who can speak up,” T Kumar, advocacy director at Amnesty International, says.
One particular issue getting attention is China’s economic ties to Sudan.
Some feel the economic relationship to Khartoum has stopped Beijing from doing all it could to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
After visiting with refugees there, actor Mia Farrow thinks that targeting the Olympics is the only way to get the Chinese government to use its influence.
|Farrow says China does not want a shadow
cast over the forthcoming summer games
“There is apparently one thing that Beijing holds more dear then its unfettered access to Sudanese oil and that is its staging of the 2008 Olympic games,” she says.
“It does seem to have hit a nerve. They don’t want those games tarnished.”
Activists in the US have been directing their ire at Chinese consulates, holding rallies and handing in petitions.
Chinese officials would not answer our questions directly, but in a statement China said none of the demonstrations will affect the games.
“One of the basic principles of the Olympic games is to separate politics from sports. It’s fiddle-faddle to politicise China’s hosting of the Olympics …” Liu Guijin, China’s special representative on the Darfur issue, said.
By spending more than $40bn on the stadiums and games, China is trying to build its stature as a free-market economy.
And some experts agree that, if history is a guide, the protests will have little effect.
|Hollywood stars are pressuring China to help
resolve the Darfur crisis [GALLO/GETTY]
Robert Boland, a sports professor from New York University, said almost all protests at the Olympics did not have a great success rate.
“I think by engaging in the games and taking part, embracing the fullness of competition, generally the protestors have been heard more successfully than by standing outside the gate with signs,” he said.
Meanwhile, celebrities like George Clooney are keeping the international focus on Darfur. Clooney and fellow actors donated $1m in film revenues to help refugees.
And film director Steven Spielberg, tipped to help design Beijing’s opening ceremonies, is threatening to back out if the Chinese government doesn’t take a harder line on Sudan.
Some see the UN’s recent decision to send its peacekeepers to Darfur, with China’s approval, as evidence that pressure is already working.