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June 13, 2008 4:35 AM

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Miles of Smiles in Beijing

/*photo styles */ .photo-left { width:200px; float:left; margin:4px; } .photo-right { width:200px; float:right; margin:4px; } .caption { font-size:10px;padding:2px; color:#999999; } A little more than one year ago, China launched an "Olympic smile campaign" urging all of Beijing to smile...

A little more than one year ago, China launched an "Olympic smile campaign" urging all of Beijing to smile at foreign visitors. "Beijing citizens, especially those from malls, restaurants, hospitals and police stations, are urged to smile when they face hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world during the Olympics," state media said in announcing the drive 500 days before the start of the Beijing Summer Games.

But with a crackdown on visas for foreigners, political turmoil in Tibet and a devastating earthquake in Sichuan that killed at least 70,000 people, simple smiles may not be enough to draw foreigners to Beijing for the games, which begin Aug. 8. Tourism officials report that visitor numbers are down and thousands of hotel rooms remain unbooked for those three weeks in August.

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These are tense times in Beijing, with less than 60 days to go before the opening ceremony. Police are randomly checking the passports and visas of foreigners, knocking on doors throughout the city, shuttling out the migrant workers who have helped build a new Beijing and going to great lengths to keep tight control on those who remain in the city.

Most tickets for Olympic events are sold out, although even some families of international athletes have failed to secure seats. Early last week, the government issued rules for who will and won't be allowed to enter China for the Olympics -- tickets being no guarantee of a visa. Those regulations bar those with "mental diseases" and sexually transmitted disease like AIDS and syphilis. Protests and political slogans, the government noted, require prior permission -- something not often granted here.

In the end, China will undoubtedly stage a grand Olympic Games. What remains to be seen is whether the Beijing Games truly will be an international celebration of sport, or simply an extravagant party by and for those in charge. In any case, the real relaxed smiles are apt to return in September or October when the show finally ends.
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