BEIJING, China (AP) — A week before the start of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese President Hu Jintao said Friday that the caliber of athletic competition and enhanced friendship among nations, not political disputes, will determine whether the games are a success.
Beijing police line up with an Olympic Fuwa mascot at the National Stadium.
Though Hu did not directly mention the controversies over China’s human rights lapses and restrictions on media coverage that have buffeted the event, he decried injecting political issues into the games and reminded reporters to report fairly.
“We believe that politicizing the Olympics does not favor resolving these issues, and also violates the Olympic spirit,” Hu said.
He later said: “We hope that foreign reporters while in China will respect our laws and rules, report objectively and help communication and understanding between China and the peoples of the world.”
The exchange was one of the few discordant notes in a carefully controlled encounter.
The reporters, from about two dozen countries, were required to submit questions in advance, and a foreign ministry official called on them.
When Georg Blume of the German newspaper Die Zeit tried to pose a question on human rights at the end of the 70-minute meeting, Hu ignored him.
In his nearly six years as China’s top leader, Hu has been interviewed by foreign media only a handful of times, usually before important overseas trips.
Friday’s meeting was designed to carry the same message to the world that Hu’s government hopes the Olympics will do for China — promote a friendlier face for a nation unsettling the established powers.
“The key is to ensure that athletes from all countries will have a level playing field to compete fairly.”
“We need to ensure that our friends from the five continents can further enhance their mutual understanding and deepen their friendship during the games,” Hu said.
He called it “only inevitable that people from different countries and regions may not see eye to eye with one another on some different issues.” But he said that those differences should be worked out through dialogue.
Prodded by a question into displaying a more personal side, Hu said his favorite sports were swimming and table tennis and wished he could play for the Chinese team.
“But I would like to let you know that since the lineup of the Chinese table tennis team is already finalized and made public it seems that my wish could not be granted.”
A generally remote, career Communist Party official, Hu is trying to cultivate a more accessible image at home, partly in response to unfavorable comparisons with the popular, grandfatherly Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
In recent months, Hu has made several well-publicized trips to earthquake-devastated central China to console survivors and has often been shown with children.
During the 70-minute interview in the Great Hall of the People, Hu also touched upon China’s slowing but still strong economy.
He said the country managed to overcome May’s quake and freak winter snowstorms that paralyzed central and southern China. The government is now wrestling with inflation, he said, but would also “maintain steady, fast economic growth.”
After the Olympics, the government would press ahead with reforms to make agencies more responsive to public demands, Hu said.
He said China’s military policy is defensive and the country’s “development will in no way affect or threaten the interests of others.”