English, French, Swahili and Yoruba: Beijing's hotel managers, market sellers and tour guides are busy brushing up on their language skills in preparation for the arrival of thousands of African guests.
The visitors are no ordinary tourists, but rather heads of state and high-ranking officials from 48 African countries, who will attend the Beijing Summit and third Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation starting November 1.
"This is expected to be the largest summit ever staged in the country since 1949. It is also a milestone marking China-Africa economic co-operation and cultural exchanges," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a regular news briefing yesterday.
More than 3,000 people from Africa will attend the event, according to the foreign ministry.
At least 20 five-star hotels in the Chinese capital will host state leaders and delegates, according to one organizer.
The official, who declined to be named, refused to reveal detailed arrangements for the African guests, but said: "We will try our best to make sure our African friends have a good stay in Beijing during the summit, by offering them satisfactory accommodation, delicious food, security and convenience."
Beijing Television reported that hotels have made special preparations for their presidential suites. Chefs at hotel restaurants will show off their skills at both Chinese and African cuisine.
Banners carrying words of welcome line major streets, highlighting the summit's theme of "friendship, peace, development and co-operation."
Flower beds have been set up on the Tian'anmen Square, to the west of which is the Great Hall of the People where the summit is to be held. Usually this level of decoration is reserved for National Day on October 1st.
Beijing residents are busy preparing. A neighbourhood committee in Dongcheng District last week invited two African students studying at the Beijing Institute of Technology to teach local residents African etiquette.
"We want to show our best manners to welcome our friends from afar," said Wang Yixian, a resident in Hepingli neighbourhood.
To help ease transport concerns for African leaders and government officials, Beijing Benz-Daimler Chrysler Automotive Co Ltd provided 110 cars as official sedans. They have also helped train drivers.
The city will also implement temporary traffic measures on major roads leading to the airport, conference venue and hotels during the summit.
Around 80 per cent of government cars will be banned from the streets.
Beijing authorities have also mobilized 810,000 volunteers from all walks of life to patrol residential communities and streets as an extra security measure, according to reports by the Xinhua News Agency.
Yesterday, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and Gabonese President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba arrived in China.
(China Daily 11/01/2006 page2)