Beijing, August 2:

A week before the start of the Olympics, Chinese President Hu Jintao has said the caliber of athletic competition and enhanced friendship among nations, not political disputes, will determine whether the games are a success.

In a rare interview with foreign media on Friday, the typically reserved Hu repeatedly said Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics was intended to underscore a rising China’s desire for peaceful, friendly interaction with the rest of the world.

Though Hu did not directly mention the controversies over China’s human rights lapses and restrictions on media coverage that have buffeted the event, he decried injecting political issues into the games and reminded reporters to report fairly.

“We believe that politicising the Olympics does not favour resolving these issues and also violates the Olympic spirit,” Hu said. He later said, “We hope that foreign reporters while in China will respect our laws and rules, report objectively and help communication and understanding between China and the peoples of the world.”

The exchange was one of the few discordant notes in a carefully controlled encounter. When a German reporter tried to pose a question on human right, Hu ignored him. In his nearly six years as China’s top leader, Hu has been interviewed by foreign media only a handful of times. Friday’s meeting was designed to carry the same message to the world Hu’s government’s hopes the Olympics will do for China — promote a friendlier face for a nation that is unsettling the established powers.