China is keeping a wary eye on its smog, its weather and its critics as its make final preparations for an Olympic Games it hopes will be remembered for its athletes, not its aggravations.
Today in Beijing, thick smog returned to haunt the capital less than 24 hours after a burst of heavy showers washed away the pollution. Citizens standing on Tiananmen Square viewed a fuzzy Olympics countdown clock as they gazed through the haze late this afternoon.
Last-Minute Pollution Controls
Beijing is taking every precaution when it comes to ensuring clear skies for the Opening Ceremonies, scheduled to begin at 8:08 p.m. on Aug. 8. Satellite monitoring systems and cloud seeding are among the strategies planned to prevent rain from spoiling China's big moment on the world stage.
This is the 10th day of an odd-even license plate policy for drivers in Beijing. Chinese authorities claim that air quality has improved despite the thick blanket of smog.
International Olympic Committee executive director Gilbert Felli has been in Beijing for three weeks and was optimistic. He expects Beijing's air quality will continue to improve with the help of additional rain this week.
"Most of the people see the fog, they say it is pollution. But we know here it's not pollution. It's mist, a fact of the nature," Felli told Xinhua, China's official state media.
"It's always a [mix of] excitement and nervousness 10 days before the games … because you want to make sure that everybody is happy and you don't have flaws," Felli said.
Environmentalist groups are more cautious in their assessment.
"It is easy to pollute, but much harder to clean up the damage," said Greenpeace China's Campaign Director Lo Sze Ping in a press conference on Monday.
"Despite the long- and short-term plans by Beijing, air pollution remains one of the toughest challenges for the city."
Protesters Prepare for Beijing
As officials scramble for blue skies in Beijing, protestors outside of China prepare to pursue their own Olympic dreams. Just over a week before the opening ceremonies, Tibet supporters placed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times today hoping to recruit an athlete to show his or her support for Tibet in Beijing.
The advertisement, sponsored by Students for a Free Tibet and the International Tibet Support Network, stated in part, "At every Olympics, there is one athlete who ends up inspiring the world with their courage and character. We're hoping that athlete is reading this."
On the Web site listed on the bottom of the advertisement, suggestions for "showing support for Tibet in Beijing" include raising a Tibetan flag, wearing "Team Tibet" apparel, and other nonviolent expressions.
"Olympic athletes have the platform and the power to inspire the world," said Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of Students for a Free Tibet.
"At the Beijing Games, we believe athletes have the opportunity to inspire not only with their athletic performances, but also by standing up for what is right by supporting … freedom for Tibet," Dorjee said in a press release.
This student group isn't the only organization reaching out to make a splash in Beijing. Groups in Australia, India, Europe and North America are reaching out to Olympic athletes and providing them with materials to show their support for Tibet next month.
However, no demonstration of "political, religious or racial propaganda" would be permitted in Olympic sites or areas, according to Liu Shaowu, director of security for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the Olympics (BOCOG).
Instead, individuals may express themselves in three public parks earmarked for protesters by BOCOG, including Ritan Park located in the center of the embassy district. Exactly who plans to protest remains unknown.
At Ritan Park this week, frequent visitors to the park are aware but not worried about the protest zones. Sun Xiaosheng owns a rock climbing wall in the park.
"The worst thing I expect is that I have to suspend my business for several weeks during the demonstrations," Sun Xiaosheng told Xinhua. "But I believe the protests would be peaceful."
While establishing their presence in Beijing next month is a top priority, campaigns such as Students for a Free Tibet and Dream for Darfur have been consistently denied visas into mainland China.