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Quake fails to dampen spirit

world Updated: Jun 11, 2008 22:09 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
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On Tuesday in Beijing, China’s “table tennis queen” Deng Yaping talked about Sichuan, where she and two chess and skating champions distributed the Olympics mascots to children who survived the May 12 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 in the country’s mountainous southwest.

The Olympics gold medallist said Sichuan’s children grew up on the Olympics spirit of “higher, faster, stronger” since 2001 when China won the bid to host the Olympics, and the quake would not dampen enthusiasm for the Games.

Athletes spreading well-planned motivating messages in the rubble are just one example of how the worst earthquake to strike the country in 32 years is shaping the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

“The quake has only made Beijing stronger in its resolve to organise the best-ever Olympics,”' Raviprasad Narayanan, a visiting research scholar at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, told HT.

Marking almost a month post-quake, People’s Daily Online, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party of China, carried a rousing propaganda piece titled “Wiping off tears, China is to host a superb Olympics”.

“Disaster cannot overpower the conviction of 1.3 billion people in China to host an Olympic Games with high attainments,” it said on Tuesday. “Such faith comes from the staunch, self-confident Chinese government… from the all-powerful, comprehensive national strength.”

Despite this wave of nationalism, parents who lost their “one-child” to the quake are angry over “tofu schools” that crumbled, burying countless students.

In what will remain a lingering link with the Olympics, some bold voices are comparing the Olympics infrastructure built to withstand an 8.0 magnitude quake, on which Beijing spent billions, with the standards in Sichuan where one estimate said 6,898 school buildings toppled.

China is currently focused on relief for five million left homeless. “We will pay equal importance to the two things and not delay one for the other,” said China’s vice-president Xi Jinping last month, on the country’s matter-of-fact attitude to the Olympics preparations and earthquake relief.

The earthquake gave Beijing a political breather with international sympathy and a diversion from firefighting dangerous levels of pollution, its human rights records, and Tibetan protests that erupted across the Himalayan region in mid-March.

Talks with the Dalai Lama’s envoys were last held on May 4 in Shenzhen. Until this week’s fresh urging from the US, Germany, and the European Union, the post-quake crisis had eased the global pressure building up on China as the Olympics approached, to negotiate with the Dalai Lama.