Countdown Beijing: Olympic Prompting at Party Congress

(ATR) Hu Jintao reminds Party officials of Olympic Games importance ... Chairman Mao inspires the latest 2008 merchandise ... and Visa measures some success in credit card campaign. More inside Countdown Beijing ...

"We must comprehensively develop mass participation of sports among the people," Hu Jintao said. (Getty Images)Hu Jintao Emphasizes Soft Power in Party Congress Speech

Chinese president Hu Jintao reminds party members about the importance of the Olympics and of “soft power” at the opening of the biggest Chinese Communist Party convocation in five years.

"We must organize the 2008 Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and 2010 World Expo well," Hu told the delegates to the Communist Party's 17th National Congress on Monday.

Hu also emphasized the importance of soft power – a country's capacity to influence the world through culture, ideas and public image, rather than force.

Culture has become "a factor of growing significance in the competition in overall national strength," he said.

The mention of the Olympics and soft power may point to a connection between the two in Beijing's way of thinking. China has indeed racked up praise for its Games preparations from the IOC and international sporting federations – praise that comes without political critique from the apolitical IOC.

In his two-and-a-half hour speech on Monday morning, Hu announced a target to quadruple GDP per head from 2000 levels by 2020. He also said China must modernize its military, fight corruption, and come to a peace agreement with Taipei.

The congress lasts until Oct. 21 at the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square. Organizers of the Beijing Marathon had to change their route at the Square when the Party announced the meeting date in August.

The new members of the Politburo Standing Committee will be announced on the last day of the Congress. The final makeup of the country's top governing body is being negotiated behind the scenes in Beijing, and at least two of its nine members are expected to retire. Hu will remain at the head.

The last party congress was in 2002; the next will be held sometime in 2012. Liu Xiang features heavily in Olympic Coca-Cola ads. (Getty Images)

Liu Focuses on Distant Future

Hurdle champion Liu Xiang plans to continue his career through the London Olympics, his coach Sun Haiping says.

"Possible injuries and illnesses during Liu's training concern me the most," said Sun, speaking to Chinese media at the CPC Congress, where he is a delegate.

In 2004, Liu became a celebrity in China as he broke the hurdle record and became the country's first male track and field champion. He will be 29 years old in 2012. Collectors can expect other countdown items for the 200-, 100-, and 10-day marks. (BOCOG)

300 Day Mark Passes Quietly

China made a muted mark of the 300-day countdown to the Games. The Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong along with the Home Affairs Bureau held a countdown at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Piazza on Oct. 13.

"Today's ceremony marks the launching of our Olympic city dress-up exercise. The government and all relevant parties are now planning a series of community engagement activities and publicity campaigns, to encourage community participation in full," saidHome Affairs Bureau secretary Tsang Tak-sing. Mao porcelain was developed in 1975. (BOCOG)

BOCOG released a new slate of Olympic merchandise from handicrafts to umbrellas. Also among the new offerings are the "Mao Ci" vases, a set of four vases made of the Chairman's favorite porcelain adorned with his favorite flowers. The vases come in a limited edition of 8,000.

Adding to the artistry, the government of Gansu province sent a giant traditional-style tripod decorated with 2008 pictograms to BOCOG for the 300-day mark. The gift is on display at Chaoyang Park.

Visa Survey

A rising number of Chinese city-dwellers expect the country to experience economic and financial benefit from the Games, according to a new survey by Visa. Seventy-eight percent of respondents agreed that China will profit, up from 68 percent in July.

Olympic tickets can be paid for via a Bank of China transfer or Visa. (Visa)The ongoing monthly survey also found 81 percent of people agree that "China’s payment system must allow international tourists to be able to pay the way they do at home," up from 69 percent in July.

Visa is actively spreading acceptance of credit cards in the mainland market, where only about 20 percent of people have a credit card, according to a recent Chinese study. In the year ending in June 2007, Visa signed on 76,000 new merchants and installed 25,000 ATMs throughout China.