Acting Beijing Mayor Named as City Rushes to Prepare for '08 Olympics

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 1, 2007

BEIJING, Nov. 30 -- China on Friday appointed a new acting mayor in Beijing, an ally of President Hu Jintao and a former party boss in Tibet who will be in charge of a city scrambling to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Guo Jinlong, 60, replaces Wang Qishan, who was promoted to the 25-member Politburo in October. Their reassignments are among the broader leadership changes in China following a Communist Party congress aimed at securing Hu's authority as he heads into his final five years in office.

As mayor, Guo will be close to preparations for the Games, which will be held over two weeks in August. Already, critics have said traffic problems and severe pollution in the capital could be disastrous for the event. There are also concerns about the city's willingness to provide access for the thousands of journalists who will descend on Beijing.

On Thursday, Reporters Without Borders sent an open letter to the International Olympic Committee complaining that China has failed to keep its promises on media freedom. Chinese authorities are reportedly creating a database of information on journalists covering the Olympics, and have said they may turn away some reporters, even if they have accreditation for the Games.

"Other Olympic cities compiled files on journalists in the past, but this was for organisational purposes and never with the intention of refusing entry on grounds which -- as everyone must realize in the case of Beijing -- are political," the letter from Reporters Without Borders said.

It is unclear exactly how much power Guo will have in relation to the Games. Ultimate authority lies with central government officials, who are determined to use the Olympics as an opportunity to showcase China as a clean, modern and orderly country.

"For Olympic-related problems such as pollution, bad traffic, strong censorship on the media and so on, those problems will not be solved by either Wang or Guo," said Ma Yunlong, a newspaper editor in Henan province. "In the current political system in China, officials are just like players on a chessboard with roles to play in a script that is already finished."

Liu Qi, the Communist Party secretary in Beijing, will continue to serve as chairman of the Beijing Olympic Committee.

"Though the Games will be held in Beijing, actually it's a big issue for the whole country and the central government," said Ren Jianming, a professor of public policy at Tsinghua University.

Guo, a native of eastern Jiangsu province, spent 11 years in Tibet before becoming party chief in Anhui province. According to state media reports, he has a reputation for directness. In his spare time, the reports said, he surfs the Internet, especially message board discussions.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company