China scrambles to the finish line

The Chinese Seal, Dancing Beijing emblem for the 2008 Olympics.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: In Beijing, China, today, the Olympic countdown clocks clicked over to the magic number of 30. There is one month left until the opening ceremonies, which means time's getting tight for the city to make sure everything's ready.

You've probably read about construction delays and the pollution problems there.

We've got Lisa Chow on the line from Beijing now and Lisa, I was actually there in town a couple of weeks ago. The air pollution was real bad then. Is it any better today with a month to go?

Lisa Chow: Today was pretty bad. Visibility was incredibly poor. Pretty much driving down most streets, you couldn't see the tops of buildings.

Ryssdal: The government has a plan, though, to deal with this pollution, doesn't it?

Chow: Yeah. It has a pretty extensive plan that it's been working on for several months, if not, actually, a few years now. It's trying to attack it on three different fronts: the factories and heavy industry, cars and construction. Right now, in terms of the factories, they're definitely shutting down factories in four of the neighboring provinces. Actually, back in April, they had announced a plan to at least start giving municipalities targets to reduce pollution and if they didn't meet those targets, those factories would be shut down. And from what we understand, the state media's reporting in Tianjin, a neighboring city, port city about 70 miles east of Beijing, they're shutting down 40 factories there and we're really talking about heavy polluters, so you know: steel, cement, power plants, concrete mixing plants, stuff like that.

Ryssdal: Talk to me about construction for a second, Lisa. It's been going on for years. Is it almost done?

Chow: There are 31 venues in the city of Beijing. All of them are complete, yet we really haven't had access to the most important one, which is the Bird's Nest...

Ryssdal: The Bird's Nest is the national stadium, the big one we've seen, right?

Chow: Basically, it's going to be the building that everyone sees on TV when they watch the Olympics. And the city: I was walking down one of the main drags in Beijing that goes right through Tiananmen Square. You still see lots of cranes around the city. Even in Tiananmen Square, there were eight cranes and when I was in the square, there was also a bunch of migrant workers who were digging up big holes in the middle of the square to put these metal structures that are going to hold lots and lots of flowers and its all to kind of beautify Tiananmen Square. But it is scary to see, you know, big gaping holes in the earth a month before the Olympics, but you know, Beijing operates incredibly fast, so I won't be surprised if those holes are covered up next week.

Ryssdal: What about infrastructure? You know, subways and things like that?

Chow: You know, Beijing has been aggressively expanding its subway lines. There are three lines that are actually critical to the Olympics. One is the subway line to the airport, one is a line that goes directly through the Olympic green and another goes through the central business district and all three lines have yet to be opened. The Beijing Olympic official that I talked to said these will be open in time before July 20, which is the drop-dead deadline for all construction.

Ryssdal: Well, let me ask you this then: You're sitting there on the ground in Beijing. Are they going to get it done?

Chow: Well, they have to get it done. I mean, I don't think there's really an option. As I said before, things in Beijing move very, very fast. In my neighborhood, actually, the subway entrance is right outside my window and in the last three months, there was no entrance. It's just really startling how fast they can get things done here.

Ryssdal: Lisa Chow in Beijing. Thank you Lisa.

Chow: Thanks Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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