Good news: We hear from friends that the skies are blue and beautiful in Beijing today. We're heading back soon and will embrace the idea that, with 27 days to go, the good times have begun.
UPDATE: Just arrived, and it is beautiful. Lights of whole city spread out in a LA-basin style panorama as the plane came in for night landing at the Capital Airport's new Terminal 3. Along the airport expressway into town and on the Third Ring Road, flashing signs tell drivers that from July 20 to September 20, new traffic restrictions will keep heavy vehicles off the road and apply even/odd-day rules for car license plates. Maybe things really are about to change. Also, in contrast to our previous arrival at Capital Airport, bags appeared five minutes after we got off the plane, and we were in a taxi fifteen minutes after touchdown.
Challenging news: When it goes on line (there's usually a several-day delay), I will post a link to today's edition of Dialogue on CCTV-9, the English-language channel of the state TV network. I think this may make clearer to viewers outside China the depth of the, well, communication challenge that lies ahead.
The guests on the interview show were hardly truculent critics of China. One was Ed Hula, a former producer for CNN who runs a web site, Around the Rings, that covers the business aspects of each Olympic games. The other was Gianni Merlo, an Italian who is head of the International Sports Press Association. Each made 100% clear that he was in Beijing to concentrate on the sports and sports-business of the Olympics, not the politics.
But after a nonstop series of tendentious questions from host Tian Wei, each ended up sounding very mildly like an official from Reporters Without Borders. The questions were on the line of: Many Chinese believe that they will never get fair coverage from foreign reporters. Is the root cause Western racism? Or is it instead Western resentment of China's rise? Or, perhaps the Western superiority complex. We Chinese are going to have 20,000 foreign reporters in the country. Isn't this going to be terrible?
The two guests tried very gently to suggest: This is life, some people are bound to complain, but most will see the good in China if you give them a chance. One of them very gently said that if the Chinese government kept showing the open face it had right after the Sichuan earthquake, outsiders would again react well. Neither was blunt enough to ask: What on earth did the Chinese government think would happen when it competed like crazy to hold a major international event on its soil?
Here's the significant point: This isn't chatter among aggrieved nationalists on a web site. It's the face the government has deliberately chosen to show the world. Maybe Olympic reporters actually should check this out to understand the reaction they may encounter.
Not news, but reflection: When I got to China two years ago, many people assumed that the Olympic period would be a kind of Prague spring of opening-up. The question was how much of that openness would last once the foreign visitors were gone. For instance, a regulation giving new freedoms for the foreign press was announced last year -with an expiration date soon after the Olympics ended.
Now it seems more likely that the Olympic period will be a time of unusual tightening-up, control, suspicion, and thin-skinnedness. And the question is whether this is the new normal or an unfortunate but temporary diversion..
All of this, as mentioned so often before, from someone who genuinely enjoys being in China and has written many times that real problems between China and the West are milder and more solvable than they seem, but who can't help but notice what is happening before these Olympic Games. And someone who is expecting to wake up tomorrow in Beijing to bright blue skies!