Business visas "blocked" for Olympic cities
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Five of the six Olympic cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, are "blocking" entry visas for business purposes, until after the Olympics. The Shanghai Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Commission indicates on its website that applications for notification letters, necessary for business visits, will be suspended until mid-September. The authorities of Beijing, Qingdao, Shenyang, and Qinhuangdao have imposed similar restrictions, although those who must sign contracts that have already been agreed upon may come. There is panic among businessmen, who are afraid of being shut out for two months, with serious economic losses. They are not satisfied by the official explanation that the intention is to make the Games "run smoothly and to sustain social stability", and they complain of the "uncertainties" created by the "frightened" government. There is no ban in Tianjin, where a few football games will be played.
Meanwhile, in response to criticisms over the repression of dissent, Liu Shaowu, security director for the Olympic organizing committee (Bocog), says that "people have the right to demonstrate under Chinese laws", and that public protests will be permitted during the games, but only in three popular public parks (Beijing World in the district of Fengtai, Purple Bamboo in Haidian, and Ritan in Chaoyang), and only with express authorization from the authorities. He did not explain the procedure for obtaining the permit. Public security offers will enforce respect for these limitations, and today, an editorial in the official newspaper of the People's Armed Police warns its readers that "Western anti-China forces are striving for opportunities to disrupt the Games". But public safety minister Meng Jianzhu maintains that the troops are ready to prevent "major incidents of violence and terrorism . . . and resolutely prevent large-scale mass incidents", like public demonstrations and protests.
Zhang Xianling of the group Tiananmen Mothers (for parents whose children were killed by the army in 1989, during the protests in Tiananmen Square) is critical, saying that this is "just a showcase for the Olympics", and notes that these parks are far from the Olympic sites. Other human rights activists note that in this way, rather than permitting protests, it will be easy to control them and justify repressing them anywhere else.
The authorities are very attentive to formalities: in the central area of Beijing, flyers have been put up telling the residents about the "do's" and "don'ts" of talking with foreign tourists and athletes. It is not "polite" to ask guests about their age, their salary, emotional or health issues, or talk to them about politics, religion, or personal experiences. Other flyers even indicate the expressions that should be avoided when talking with disabled athletes.
Meanwhile, the Bocog is talking about the grandiose fireworks display at the opening ceremony on August 8: hundreds of fireworks, launched simultaneously by computer, will form the five Olympic rings in the nighttime sky, and other designs "inspired by the Olympic ideals". They are hoping for a starry night, without smog. A trial run of some "absolute firsts" will be held on August 2.