Earlier, outdoor enthusiasts had charged that municipal authorities were planning to build the alpine ski course and sledding tracks in the Songshan National Nature Reserve, considered an “ecological barrier” protecting the urban portion of Beijing from seasonal winds and sand blowing from the north.
Beijing, in its bid documents, apparently told the International Olympic Committee that events would be held adjacent to the sensitive reserve, in the northwest portion of the sprawling Beijing municipality. Yet activists and others, after examining IOC photographs, satellite images, and official Chinese geographic coordinates, determined that the municipality had reserved sites inside Songshan for the Games. Censors took down blog postings on the matter.
On Friday, Zhang Suzhi, executive deputy head of Beijing’s Yanqing County, revealed that Songshan’s boundaries had been redrawn to exclude approximately 1,100 hectares. “The location of the Winter Olympic venues are not included in the reserve after the adjustment,” she noted in comments carried by the Beijing News on Friday. She did not say when the boundary lines had been shifted.
Perhaps there was no adjustment. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post revealed that, on the day she spoke, Songshan’s official website showed that the land in question was still listed as a “core area” in the reserve. The only human activity permitted in core areas is scientific research.
Zhang also claimed that 2,655 hectares of Little Haituo Mountain had been added to Songshan, making the preserve about a third larger. The Yanqing official said, as a result of the addition, the reserve included nine more types of vegetation. Critics challenge the claim, however. Amateur botanist Zhou Zhuocheng, for instance, said existing data was inconsistent with Zhang’s assertions.
No surprise that Zhang was having trouble with the truth. There were, from the get-go, severe ecological concerns with Beijing’s bid for the Games. Venues for many of the events had to be carved out of pristine areas, and flake-making was always going to damage the area. Beijing’s bid slogan—“Joyful Rendezvous upon Pure Ice and Snow”—was ironic as the white stuff in the area averages a depth of only five centimeters, meaning almost all of it in 2022 will be artificial.
Moreover, there are other threats to the environment. Officials view the 2022 extravaganza as an opportunity to build in areas surrounding the two faraway Olympic venues, Yanqing County and the city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei Province. “It’s now time for Beijing to help propel development in its surrounding region,” said Ma Qingbin of the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, a government think tank, conveying the Chinese government’s ultimate plans.
Ms. Zhang on Friday suggested the development of the Songshan reserve will be “sustainable.” Now that the Chinese capital has won the right to host the Games—they were awarded July 31th—she and other Chinese officials are beginning to ignore the pledges they made in their bid. Said Beijing environmentalist Annie Zhu, “the authorities need to know that the world is watching the country’s green promises for such iconic events.”
By carving out a large chunk of a national nature preserve for the Games, China’s officials don’t seem to care what the world—or their own people—think.