China.org.cn: What is different about this torch relay compared with previous ones?
Li Ping: First, I would like to say that the Olympics attach great importance to respecting tradition and stressing the close links between the ancient and modern Games. The solemnity, sacredness and purity of the Olympic Torch must be preserved. Therefore, the basic rite, and many important etiquettes, will be left unchanged, as guaranteed by the Olympic Charter as well as by detailed contracts and documents signed by the host city. Some adjustments are allowed such as the number of participants, the itinerary and so on. But the important etiquettes and the basic rite are always the same.
Within this framework, each host city, of course, makes every effort to add a distinctive touch, to demonstrate the wisdom of their city, and its unique culture. For example, every host city chooses a different theme. The 1948 London Olympic Torch Relay chose "Peace" as the theme to express people's desire for a peaceful environment after World War II.
The theme of the 2008 Olympic Games is "Journey of Harmony". We hope the Torch Relay will communicate the Chinese people's passion for peace and life, for the pursuit of peace and friendship as well as our aspirations for a harmonious society and a harmonious world. "Journey of Harmony", as a theme, also reflects elements inherent in China's traditional culture, which values the pursuit of harmony in body and mind, in interpersonal relationships and with the natural environment. So I think the theme is very good, and it has been endorsed by the International Olympic Committee.
All previous torch relays used various means to showcase their own characteristics. For example, the Montreal Olympic Games completed the relay from Athens to Ottawa by using a satellite to parade their technology. The Oslo relay used sleds as transfer vehicles to express Norway's snowy climate. The torch relay to Atlanta, United States, used traditional canoes. The unique feature of the Beijing relay is that we intend to carry the Olympic Flame to the world's highest peak – Mount Qomolangma.
China.org.cn: How many countries, regions and cities will the Torch Relay pass through? How was the itinerary decided on?
Li Ping: The torch will cross five continents and pass through 22 countries and regions, including Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao. The relay will start on April 1, the first stop will be Kazakhstan's Almaty, and it will arrive in Beijing on August 8. The torch relay will last for 130 days and will cover 137,000 kilometers, passing through 134 cities and regions. This will be a truly global torch relay and the longest itinerary in the history of the Olympic Games. It will also have the largest number of participants – 21,880.
The torch relay route is co-planned by the arrival cities and the Olympic Committees in those cities and approved by the IOC. The main part of the route is inside China itself, where it will pass through 113 cities and regions and cover all the provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. The route outside China covers most major cities in Asia. The Olympic Games originated from Europe and has only been to Asia twice before. We specifically hope to bring the Holy Flame to those countries and cities which haven't yet hosted an Olympic Games, especially our neighboring countries, so we can share our passion and joy with the people there. Therefore, it's a torch relay with a global view. Another feature of the relay is that the Flame will pass through many of the countries along the route of the ancient "silk road".
Cities such as Almaty of Kazakhstan, Dar es Salaam of Tanzania, Muscat of Oman, Islamabad of Pakistan, Jakarta of Indonesia, and Pyongyang of the DPRK are all included in this relay. The "silk road", originating from China, was a bridge between East and West and made a great contribution to the development of the human civilization. Through the relay, we hope to revive old friendships and strengthen economic cooperation and cultural exchanges with those countries. In a time of globalization, we will carry on the tradition of mutual respect and equal exchange to reach a win-win goal.