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Mike Chinoy: Olympics will force international engagement

Now that the 2008 Olympics have been awarded to Beijing, what consequences will the Games have for the political and social climate in China? Will they confirm the fears of protesters, or bolster the hopes of China's supporters? CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy addresses some of these questions from Beijing's Millennium Tower, where crowds of people gathered Friday to hear the Olympic decision and erupted in cheers when their city was declared the winner.

Q: Friday's announcement comes at an important time in Chinese politics. Could you explain what's ahead, and how that might affect the Games?

CHINOY: There are potentially very significant internal political consequences in China from the decision to award Beijing the Games. It comes at a time when there is intense maneuvering over the succession to President Jiang Zemin, who is due to step down at a Communist Party congress in 2002. Jiang has wanted to keep one of the posts he now has, which is chairman of the central military commission -- in effect, the head of the military -- even as he gives up the presidency. This would allow him, as was the case with his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, to continue to call the shots from behind the scenes. China has faced a lot of problems recently with unrest and economic dislocation. There's been an upsurge of corruption and the Olympic backdrop will automatically boost Jiang Zemin's stature and clout. It will enable him to carry out his plan to wield power from behind the scenes and will weaken the position of his rival. Certainly, it will also bolster his popular standing because he will be seen as the man who brought Beijing the Olympics.

Watch the announcement and celebration in the streets of China (July 13)

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Human rights are 'not a problem,' according to Lu Chen, a Chinese Olympic medalist (July 13)

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Q: In recent months, the Chinese government has imposed new curbs on several freedoms with Internet use and newspapers. Can we expect the Games to have a great effect on crackdowns like these?

CHINOY: One of the most intriguing questions arising from the decision to give Beijing the Games is what kind of impact it will have on political and social freedoms in China. The Chinese Communist Party is clearly determined to crush any direct challenge to its authority. At a time of internal instability and a leadership succession struggle, the party has been particularly tough in recent months curbing Internet cafes, reigning in some of the more independent-minded papers and generally tightening screws on political bent. There's no indication the party intends to change its behavior in this particular area, but at the same time there is a parallel and contrary dynamic of social liberalization.

In effect, you have a situation where the people have almost no political freedom but an expansion of personal freedom. It has been one of the most dramatic changes of the last decades. The Olympics will force China to engage more internationally and will open up more contact with other countries. Its proponents, who are not merely apologists for the Communist Party, argue it will accelerate the progress of social liberalization. Whether or not it will have an impact is unclear. Seven years is a long time in politics. By 2008, China will have a new leadership lineup and it will be in the World Trade Organization, so on that score, it's a very interesting question to watch.

Q: How confident were the Beijing bid officials ahead of the vote? Did they feel the squeeze from the other leading candidates?

CHINOY: The Chinese were very, very confident. They felt betrayed, to some degree, by their failure to get the 2000 Olympics, losing by only two votes to Sydney in 1993. They really tried to do everything right this time. They hired a public relations consultant, they had help from some of the people involved in the Australian bid, and they also played on the fact that the Olympics have never been held in China. They made the argument that apart from Beijing having the resources to stage the Games, it was only right for the capital of the world's most populous nation to stage the Games, and they obviously played their politics very well in this regard.

Q: As things stand right now, what can we expect the Beijing Olympics to look like?

CHINOY: The Chinese have promised to build or refurbish more than 20 new sports facilities, to build a new Olympic village with housing for more than 15,000 athletes, to dramatically improve the infrastructure in Beijing. It's clear this is still a society ruled by only one party, where orchestrated mass events happen quite frequently. It will be an extremely thoroughly and tightly controlled Olympics. There are some doubts about whether all the facilities will work out, but China is confident that can overcome that.

A bigger question is one involving the mindset of the authorities and the people, and how, in fact, they will behave and respond to so many foreigners and so many journalists -- not all of whom will follow all the normal procedures authorities use to control the crowds, procedures or people's behavior. But I think they will spare no effort or expense to make this come off like clockwork. Having won the Games, there is now tremendous pressure to pull this off, and some analysts believe that pressure can be used as leverage to gain more openness and liberation.

Q: Was there anything else you wanted to add?

CHINOY: The Bush administration made a conscious choice to stay neutral and not oppose the Chinese bid. Privately, some officials say one of the benefits of Beijing getting the Games could be renewed potential for avoiding conflict over Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province. China has threatened to use force if Taiwan makes any moves towards independence. It is the most contentious issue between China and the United States. Interestingly, senior officials in the Taiwan government privately had strong support to giving Beijing the Games, echoing the sentiment of American officials. The idea is that countries that stage the Olympics don't invade their neighbors, and that as a result, there is now a seven-year window where the odds of China using force against Taiwan are greatly reduced. That could be a very interesting diplomatic consequence.

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