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Chinese group gauging Games realities in S.L.

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The lessons of Salt Lake City will echo an ocean away and six years from now as Beijing prepares to host the summer Olympics in 2008.

A delegation of nearly a dozen Chinese officials was in town this week, keeping close watch as Utah ramps up to host the Winter Games in less than a month.

At a Saturday reception in downtown Salt Lake City hosted by the People's Republic of China, He Yafei said China stands to learn a lot from Utah as the Games get under way.

Minister He is deputy chief of mission in Washington, D.C., at the Chinese Embassy, which organized the trip as a fact-finding excursion for details on Olympic security and event preparedness.

He said he was impressed.

"I have no doubt Salt Lake City will host a successful event."

He and the delegation met with Gov. Mike Leavitt, Mayor Rocky Anderson and top police officials, including Utah's Commissioner of Public Safety Bob Flowers.

After a brief speech at the reception, He said the Summer Games planned for 2008 represents a monumental achievement for his country and a critical opportunity to showcase the wonders of his country to the world. Although the United States has hosted Olympic competitions several times, the Beijing experience will be the first for China, which has been criticized for its abuse of human rights.

He said his country will be able to overcome that cloud.

"It is a great opportunity for the exchange of ideas and a way for the world to understand our culture," He said.

Coincidentally, He commented on the similarities between Utah and China, not only in the rugged and diverse terrain but in the people who call both places home.

"The people of Utah and the people of China share a natural affinity. Utah people are very open, hard working, have a sense of discipline and great attachment to family and family values."

Chinese officials are paying particularly close attention to how development has transpired in the western United States, hoping to tap into some of America's ingenuity. Much of the eastern coast of China has developed rapidly while its western area has struggled due to geographic challenges similar to what the United States experienced in its early history.

And even though the United States and China have experienced a strained relationship in the last year, He said he is confident that the events of Sept. 11 and the upcoming Olympics will help "build a bridge" between the two countries.

"9/11 was a lesson that international terrorism is a common enemy of all countries and to humanity as a whole," He said. "The cooperation between our two countries is very much ongoing."

China, like many corners of the world, has fallen victim to extreme Islamic ideals manifested in terrorist attacks.

He said more than a hundred attacks had happened in his country and that al-Qaida has funded, trained and supplied weapons to the groups carrying out the violence.

Even though the Summer Olympics are more than six years away for his country, security will continue to be the No. 1 concern, He said.

China will send about 150 Olympic athletes to Utah and a contingent of more than 25 top government officials, including Beijing's mayor.

He said he also plans to return to attend the opening ceremonies.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com