China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Friday, April 20, 2007

Pollution, traffic concern IOC

Posted: Thursday April 19, 2007 12:48PM; Updated: Thursday April 19, 2007 12:48PM

BEIJING (AP) -- Sooty air and chronic traffic congestion in the Chinese capital is still troubling the International Olympic Committee with the Beijing Games just 16 months away.

An inspection team -- known as the IOC Coordination Commission -- wrapped up three days of talks Thursday with Beijing organizers. Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the commission, said the concerns marred largely problem-free preparations for the most widely anticipated Summer Olympics.

Verbruggen said the IOC was unsure that plans by Beijing organizers would work to clean the dirty air and unsnarl traffic during the 17-day Olympics.

The torch relay also hit a snag, with Taiwan balking at a compromise to bring the torch to the self-governing island, which claims independence from China. The torch relay is supposed to embody Olympic ideals, but it's also highlighting a charged political issue in China.

Verbruggen generally praised the Beijing organizers, saying "the attention for the Games is mounting; there is vibration all over."

"I must say that it's almost an emotional feeling you have when you imagine that in some 470 days athletes will be able to perform in this magnificent environment."

In focusing on the problems, Verbruggen said Beijing organizers had kept their promises, but China's booming economy was dirtying the air quicker than solutions could be found to cleanse it.

"We've asked for the contingency plans," Verbruggen said. "The effects of those plans will be calculated so we know if it is enough to guarantee that the quality of the air will allow the athletic performances that we expect to happen here."

He said the booming economy, with between US$40-160 billion being spent to modernize China's capital, had led to "the enormous amount of construction sites in this country; the dust problem and so on."

"This is of utmost importance to the athletes, who are the most important part of the Games."

Despite plans announced Wednesday to open at least two new subway lines before the Olympics, and proposals to reduce car usage by 20-30 percent during the Games, Verburggen said Beijing's clogged roads were worrying.

"It's totally clear with the current congestion you see in Beijing on a day to day basis, that this is something which we will obviously have to avoid during the Olympic Games," he said.

Beijing has about 3 million cars, and will have about 3.3 million by the Olympics. To ease gridlock, officials figure they will need to take about 1 million off the road for the Games. A 6-mile (10-kilometer) trip during rush hour takes an hour despite 10-lane highways that cut through the city.

"We will have a very detailed, comprehensive transportation plan to ensure things go smoothly during the Games," said Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee.

This is the eighth visit by the inspectors to Beijing, with the next return set for October.

One other area was slightly worrying -- the torch relay.

Taiwan officials have rejected a proposal under which the torch would enter Taiwan from Japan, South Korea or another Asian nation -- but would depart to Hong Kong, which is part of China. Taiwan now wants the torch to enter and leave through two Asian nations -- neither of them China.

Taiwan is a self-ruled island that split for the mainland in 1949. China still claims it is part of Chinese territory. Taiwan claims independence and wants to be part of the international route rather than China's domestic torch route.

IOC officials declined to name the route on Thursday, put plans call for it to be confirmed on April 26, the final day of IOC executive board meetings in Beijing.

"Whether the torch will come to Taipei (Taiwan), we will have to wait. But by the end of the month you will have the information," Jiang said.

"I believe guided by the principles of the IOC and efforts from various parties we can find a solution to satisfy everyone," Jiang added.

Added Verbruggen, who referred to Taiwan as a "country," which is a political error in China.

"I have problems believing that a country does not want the torch relay," he said.

Verbruggen also dismissed a slight delay in completing the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest. It's slated for completion in March 2008, three month behind schedule. He said the delay was due to "works outside" the stadium.

"We have no worry whatsoever, and I wouldn't call it a delay as such," Verbruggen said. "For us there is nothing to be worried about."

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