Tuesday, August 12, 2008

China's limelight fades

Fireworks over the Bird's Nest as seen on Chinese TV

The celebrations in Beijing on Friday night were overshadowed the following day after an American man, closely connected with the Olympic team, was stabbed to death. The assailant also stabbed the man’s wife and their Chinese tour guide before leaping to his death. Besides the high security Tang Yongming, an unemployed divorcee, armed with a knife lunged at Todd and Barbara Bachman, parents-in-law of the US men’s Olympic volleyball team coach. While Barbara Bachman was said to have been left in a critical condition in hospital, the unnamed tour guide’s condition was not revealed. Many Chinese citizens were shocked by the incident which the US embassy described as a “senseless act of violence” [Christian Science Monitor].
But while killing of a foreign tourist is rare there has been a growing rise of patriotic fervour in China and particularly in Beijing. There are rumours and little reported stories that foreigners travelling around the capital with their Chinese wives have been specifically targeted. Only two days before the opening ceremony an employee at Reuters in Beijing warned tvnewswatch that one couple had been targeted by a group of young Chinese men. “Not to put a dampener on things, but I think you should be aware” the employee said. She said the foreign man had been punched in the face breaking several teeth and that his Chinese partner had also bee attacked. The veracity of such incidents cannot however be substantiated, but there was a certain feeling of animosity towards mixed couples felt around the Chinese capital. tvnewswatch observed indifference and even rude behaviour from taxi drivers in Beijing, something not seen in previous years. Of course there are a number of other factors affecting the taxi drivers’ moods. Many complained at a lack of work with migrant workers forced to leave town and a lack of foreign tourists. Some even moaned about the weather, saying the missed the blue skies seen earlier in the month. And while measures had been made to reduce the amount of traffic in the capital road blocks and traffic restrictions were still making driving around the city very difficult.

Further troubles in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region also overshadowed Friday night’s celebrations. Seven Islamic militants and a security guard died in clashes which follows a deadly attack earlier this month when 16 police officers were killed in a grenade attack [BBC]. Last month two buses were hit by explosions in the south-west province of Yunnan but authorities have dismissed any connection to the Olympics or with terrorism. The East Turkistan Islamic Party recently made a statement claiming responsibility for the Kunming bus bombs which left 2 dead [BBC]. But while these claims have been dismissed by Chinese authorities one government official has told tvnewswatch the attacks were “definitely terrorism” but was “uncertain” who carried out the attacks.

Back in Beijing and those that ventured onto the streets to enjoy the opening ceremony celebrations experienced varying degrees of entertainment. In the Qianhai Lake area to the west of the Forbidden City many ordinary Chinese were kept out of the park by lines of police and security. However foreigners and those with special passes were allowed in. Bars alongside the lake were packed with tourists and some local Chinese watching the events at the Bird’s Nest on television screens. But in the tourist area of Wangfujing crowds that had gathered to soak up the atmosphere were left in the dark. As the Guardian reported on Saturday the giant TV screens were “disappointingly blank” and there were no fireworks to be seen. Bizarrely, NBC described an entirely different scene of "hot passion" as tens of thousands gathered to watch giant television screens of pictures beamed from the Bird's Nest stadium.
While these colourful explosions were lighting up the Beijing sky most were oblivious of the building turmoil in Georgia where Russian tanks were rolling in. And for many foreign papers and news broadcasts it was the violence in the former Russian state that dominated headlines [BBC]. China was no longer in the limelight. [tvnewswatch now reporting from London, UK]

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