Olympic Security Rules Rile Beijing Business Owners

Business owners in Beijing have a lot of complaints about restrictions that the Chinese government has placed on them ahead of the upcoming Olympic Games. The challenge is to keep the foreign media from finding out.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Security has been a big issue for Olympic Games. Host countries have to balance security with the fun and the festivities. Now Beijing is struggling to find that balance. And as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, griping about security restrictions has for some become an Olympic event.

(Soundbite of music)

ANTHONY KUHN: The music at the Yu Ohe Shan(ph) Club in central Beijing is eclectic. It doesn't always fit neatly into musical categories. That may be nice for music fans, but the hitch, says club owner Lu Jers Yung(ph), is that the government always wants to know what kind of music is being performed.

Mr. LU JERS YUNG (Club Owner): (Through translator) We have to apply to get each gig approved. We have to submit an application to the district government's cultural committee with the songs to be performed. We even have to submit the song lyrics.

KUHN: The government would never admit to banning live music during the Olympics, but they have put the word out, Lu says, that no applications for live shows will be approved for a couple of months. So Lu is just going to cool his heels and see what happens after the Olympics.

Mr. LU: (Through translator) Really, it's just annoying. Things are pretty quiet in August anyway, because it's so hot. We'd originally thought we'd have more shows during the Olympics, but now it looks like we'd better not.

KUHN: Some of the restrictions in effect here you might not imagine. For example, the health ministry has instructed Beijing hospitals to postpone nonessential surgery to keep medical resources ready for the Games. All job fairs have been cancelled during the Olympics. And there's a temporary ban on paragliding and remote control airplanes. Not that those would be a match for the batteries of surface-to-air missiles deployed outside the new national stadium.

The restrictions are giving Beijing some bad press. Some foreign media reports have given the Beijing Olympics the oxymoronic title The No Fun Games.

Beijing Olympics security chief Lo Shaw Wu(ph) said this week that while safety was his top priority, the government doesn't want to be a killjoy either. He spoke through a translator.

Mr. LO SHAW WU (Security Chief): (Through translator) We do want to have a festive atmosphere at the venues and also we don't want to interrupt the daily life of society.

KUHN: But interruptions are everywhere. Lately, police have been raiding bars in San Li Chun, an area popular with foreigners in Beijing. Chere De Doubliere(ph) runs Beer Mania, a Belgian beer bar on the south end of the street.

Mr. CHERE DE DOUBLIERE (Bar owner, Beijing): The police is really putting a lot of pressure on the bars so that the city is clean of drugs, prostitutions and so on.

KUHN: He adds that the police are being stricter about closing times.

Mr. DOUBLIERE: Which is quite funny that the law already existed before, so the bars normally should close at 2:00 o'clock in the morning, but it was never applied.

KUHN: The shifting rules have changed the odds for business people betting on an Olympic windfall. Just for the month of August, Beijing entrepreneur Lu Zia's(ph) company has purchased the sole rights to the cozy 24-room Harat Kiwi Hotel, not far from the Olympic green. She was hoping she could charge seven or eight times the normal room rate of $30 to $45 a night. She's now down to five times the normal rate.

Ms. LU ZIA (Entrepreneur): (Through translator) This spring, expectations were very high. Based on the government's propaganda, hotels all felt that business during the Olympics would be booming. But the May 12th earthquake and all the safety precautions have affected our business. We still think the Olympics will be a big draw and people will come.

KUHN: To make money on her investment, she's got to clear 80 percent occupancy rates. Now she's just above 50 percent, equivalent to the slowest time of the year. Most top-end hotels are full up with Olympic officials and journalists, but things are looking much bleaker for budget hotels.

Despite all the inconveniences and disappointments, Beijing residents put on a brave face. Given the tremendous amount of national prestige invested in the games, most of the griping and groaning is done among friends and away from the media.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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