OPINION> Brendan John Worrell
Beyond 08/08/08
By Brendan John Worrell (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2008-08-08 08:50

"..rather than resting on our laurels and slapping ourselves on the back for a job well done, there are still huge areas demanding an equally Herculean national effort"

As Beijing, China and the world prepare to embark upon the 29th Olympiad, sports haters scoff at all the fuss. However when looking at the ramifications ebbing off the Beijing Olympics only an ignoramus would claim it was a waste of time and effort. The important fact is that in the lead up to the Olympics many benefits have arisen justifying the mammoth expenditure.

Beyond the glitz and glam of mega projects in the capital like the Bird's Nest or Water Cube, vital infrastructure has been given a kick start such as the new subway system expansion opening lines 5, 10 and 8, and investment into public buses switching to liquid gas and electric models.

At the local community level we have paid witness to gradual improvements in our daily conditions. Apartment buildings have been renovated, ground entrance doors have had electric security doors fitted, trees have been planted and a general thorough clean up has been underway that has a profound and far reaching effect on people.

This hasn't taken place just on my street. I've noticed it occurring throughout Beijing and when I get a chance to visit other places around the country, I realize more investment and attention has been placed on improving public infrastructure – which in many respects has a lot to thank the Olympic agenda for.

Positive outcomes have also been extended and capacity built in the areas of community health. Greater focus has been placed on preventing smoking. Increased attention has been paid on physical fitness helping to combat the rise in obesity. In part this has been leveraged by a new crop of Olympic related Chinese sporting celebrities. They offer healthy, globally successful role models that appeal to millions of aspiring Chinese. They make us proud.

Over the last few years the construction of sporting and gym equipment in local communities thanks to the China Lottery Commission has also occurred. Outdoor fitness centers have arisen in public parks, squares, schoolyards, and other locations across the country. It’s great to see so many people, so often the elderly, using these facilities and is something western countries could learn from – where sadly such equipment is very quickly vandalized or the scene of anti-social behavior committed by the young.

Without a doubt another positive stemming from the Olympics has been the intense interest from international observers concerning all things Chinese. Placed under the microscope there have been times to squirm but overall the nation has done a great job. The proliferation of Confucius centers is seeking to address this keen curiosity amid academics and a greater understanding between cultures of the world can only serve to improve future relations.

As China continues to offer a peaceful, civilized global agenda observers are beginning to question and see through prior prejudice.

Likewise an increased global awareness among Chinese has also mushroomed. We have seen millions striving to master the English language and for current and future tourists the adoption of English into menus and street signage is a much welcomed spillover from the Games. There is also a growing awareness now, particularly among cab drivers I speak to, who no longer assume all foreigners are American - that big noses can be from many places.

However, one fear among ‘China lovers’ is that beyond the closing ceremony, the nation loses this drive to constantly upgrade and that the attention that has been paid to public spaces over the last few years dwindles. Therefore rather than resting on our laurels and slapping ourselves on the back for a job well done, there are still huge areas demanding of an equally Herculean national effort - and a large proportion of this is environmental, energy and executive related.

In the lead up to the Olympics China has shown what it can do when it puts its mind to the task and sets a course of action for the nation to pursue. Beyond 08/08/08 we need to build upon this momentum and focus on new pressing goals.

This week an NGO called Climate Group reported that China was now the world's leading producer of energy from renewable resources and was on the way to overtaking developed countries in creating clean technologies. They also revealed that next year the nation will become the world's leader in wind turbines in addition to it now being the world leader in solar photovoltaic technology.

Their CEO was quoted as saying, "China's government is beginning to unleash a low-carbon dragon which will power its future growth, development and energy security objectives."

Underpinned by ethical decision makers acting in the public interest, the new generation of Chinese leaders coming up that have benefitted from the last few years of stable growth, undoubtedly have a tremendous role to fill.

Let's hope as a nation, people and communities in this vast land continue to work together to solve these pressing challenges.

Beyond 08/08/08 the games are really just beginning.