In exactly 100 days, the Olympic Games will open in China’s capital Beijing. And China has celebrated the occasion with great pomp. However, security is high in Hong Kong ahead of Friday’s torch relay and tension is mounting on Everest which the torch is supposed to climb in early May.
The Olympic Games will open at Beijing's new Bird's Nest stadium in August
There were songs and prayers for a good run-up to the Games, as China started the final countdown. Thousands gathered in the capital, where security is increasingly high as the final touches to the preparations are applied.
The International Olympic Committee says everything is on schedule and some stadiums have even been completed ahead of the deadline. Beijing has pumped about 40 billion US dollars into improving the city’s infrastructure for the prestigious sporting event. It has also built a new airport terminal and new underground lines.
And now that the Olympic torch has arrived back on Chinese soil after its fraught misnamed “Journey of Harmony” around the globe, the Chinese authorities can almost breathe a sigh of relief. Things are almost back in their hands.
Calm amid high security in Hong Kong
There were no protesters in Hong Kong shouting about human rights abuses or calling for an independent Tibet when the torch arrived on Wednesday. Not, however, because they didn’t want to be there. But because they were kept away.
Human rights groups have criticised the Hong Kong authorities for barring several Tibetan activists from the island, as well as several dissident writers, planning to attend an international writers’ forum in Hong Kong.
3,000 police officers are expected to guard the torch during its eight-hour relay around the island on Friday.
Tensions mount on Everest
Measures to rule out any unrest are even higher in Nepal, where the authorities have closed off the upper parts of Mount Everest. They have also expelled foreign journalists from the base camp until the Olympic torch has been and gone. Chinese torch-bearers are due to carry it up the Chinese-controlled Tibetan side of the mountain in the first week of May.
It is not clear whether protests will take place on the Nepalese side but China has been applying heavy pressure on Kathmandu to keep all potential unrest to a minimum. The Nepalese authorities have already come down very heavily on pro-Tibet protests over the past month, beating and arresting several demonstrators.
“The security forces could use violence if necessary. But the Nepalese government has ordered that only minimal violence be deployed. We have made it clear that there is no order to shoot. We have called on everyone not to go against the law. And we are not expecting any demonstrations,” said Raj Dotel is a spokesman for Nepal’s Interior Ministry.
The president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, Zimba Jangbu Sherpa, was of a different opinion.
He said there was a palpable tension around Mount Everest: “These incidents have created a lot of nervousness among us. There seem to be people who want to use this event to voice their political beliefs. Now, I am sure that the security will be much stricter as there is every possibility that there might be more people who share the same sentiment.”
Suspense is high because nobody knows for sure what to expect and those who might know more don’t want to give away anything, such as exiled Tibetans in the area.
“We don’t plan anything -- all the demonstrations and protests just happen according to the time and situation -- all countries are watching China so we are taking this opportunity this time because the golden opportunity comes once in a lifetime,” said one such exiled Tibetan.
The Olympic torch’s climb up Mount Everest is now one of the biggest hurdles the Chinese authorities have to overcome. If it goes off peacefully, Beijing will be able to turn its energies back to showing off its state-of-the-art infrastructure and booming economy to the world this summer. But a hundred days are a long time in sport and politics and anything could happen.