Page 2 of 2   <      

One Year Out From Olympics, A Test of Openness in Beijing

One of the prominent foreigners threatening to turn his back on the Beijing Games is movie producer Steven Spielberg, who had agreed to serve as artistic adviser for a spectacular opening ceremony on Aug. 8, 2008, at 8:08 p.m., a date and time reflecting the Chinese folk belief that the number 8 brings good luck.

Spielberg's spokesman, Andy Spahn, told ABC News last month he was considering pulling out because of China's role in the Darfur crisis but was awaiting a statement from Beijing.

Jiang, asked about Spielberg's status, said that the producer had volunteered to help design the ceremony but that no contract had yet been signed. "We welcome Mr. Spielberg's participation," he added, without addressing the Darfur issue.

Jiang and another executive vice president, Wang Wei, said preparations for the Games are on schedule one year out, with brisk ticket sales helping to finance construction. Air pollution is declining, they said.

"Good air quality and blue skies in Beijing are not only very important for the opening ceremony but also for the health of the athletes, the spectators and the people of the city," Wang said. "In the past several years, Beijing's air quality has improved a lot."

As he spoke, humidity, dust and exhaust fumes so reduced visibility in the streets outside that office towers only 1,000 yards away appeared as fuzzy hulks. Thunder rolled and a timid summer shower came down later in the day, providing relief from several days of what seemed to the unscientific eye to be severe pollution. Elsewhere in the expansive capital, heavy rain fell, causing temporary flooding.

The State Environmental Protection Administration rated the city "lightly polluted" Monday. According to the agency's measurement system, Wang noted, the number of what are called good air quality days has risen from 17.6 percent of the year in 2000 to 66 percent in 2006.

Beijing Olympic and municipal officials announced last month that they would drastically reduce traffic during the two weeks the Olympics will run as part of the city's efforts to cut pollution. As many as a million cars -- one-third the number typically jamming Beijing's streets -- will be banned during the Games, they said, and a two-week test of the ban was set to begin Tuesday. But Wang said the announcements were premature and that officials were still studying how to reduce traffic and air pollution.

<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company