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Elephants and zebras in Beijing

Africansummit1
Africansummit2

Beijing has gone safari. You would not believe the number of billboards and banners around the city to celebrate a two-day China-Africa summit now wrapping up.

In just a brief drive around the eastern part of the city I counted at least two dozen huge billboards. Around the whole city, the number must be in the hundreds. The cost is rather extraordinary. I presume the billboards were commandeered for the publicity campaign.

The media here says it is the biggest diplomatic event since 1949, and observing the resources spent on this thing it does not surprise me. I’ve seen President Bush come and go, and numerous European heads of state arrive. But nothing matches the display of pomp and pageantry for this summit for 40 or so African heads of state.

One can’t watch it without thinking that it is a stage rehearsal for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, and by my reading authorities are showing that they can stiff-arm any problem that might arise. The transit police have gotten really stern. They are everywhere, posted up and down every major thoroughfare. Beijing drivers, normally chaotic and ill-behaved, are now behaving meekly. They know these cops are not kidding.

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"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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