For the past three years, people travelling on the E4 motorway from Helsingborg to Haparanda have been following the construction of Dragon Gate with wonder. Why on earth would someone build a Chinese cultural centre and hotel in the middle of the Swedish woods, complete with massive statues of lions, horses, and the goddess Guan-Yin?
The idea might sound crazy, but it is rooted in the growing links between the two countries. China has overtaken the US to become Sweden’s 10th largest importer, and travel between China and Stockholm’s Arlanda airport has shown steady growth since 2003. Dragon Gate is intended as a meeting point for Swedish, European and Chinese businessmen, as well as – eventually – a tourist attraction.
The initiator of the project is Jingchun Li, a Chinese entrepreneur and fan of Sweden. “Sweden has a very good name in China. Mr Li wants to invest in a country that is stable economically,” says Erland Ågren, Dragon Gate’s CEO, who estimates the project’s cost at €20m.
Despite all the mutual interest, the project has produced its share of cultural conflict. The Chinese workers’ salaries had to be raised after a complaint from the Swedish Building Workers’ Union, and the Swedish Work Environment Authority has handled several complaints about working conditions on the site.
Dragon Gate opens to the public in the summer, consisting of a hotel, two restaurants and conference centre, a kung-fu school and a museum. If everything goes according to plan, it will expand into Dragon Land – a tourism centre – and later on, into Dragon City, a small town with a section from each of China’s regions.
Leaders anxious to disperse their revolting citizens – without actually killing them – have a new weapon in their armoury: LRADs or Long Range Acoustic Devices.
The brainchild of the San Diego company American Technology Corporation, LRADs reduce large frequencies of sound into a narrow beam. LRADs can transmit a human voice (much like a high-powered megaphone) or an excruciatingly loud sound over a distance of up to 1,000m. The key breakthrough is that the sound is only heard by the person it targets.
Priced from around €17,000 to €62,000 a unit, LRADs have been used by the US military in Iraq and the New York Police Department, who used LRADs to speak to protesters outside the 2004 Republican National Convention.
But now, for the first time they are being used to zap protesters. Last November, Georgian police in Tbilisi were seen using the units – 33cm black cylinders that weigh about 20.5kg – on demonstrators opposed to the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili. One Tbilisi casualty described the sensation as “like being next to a very loud speaker while getting a full-body shock”.
LRADs can cause deafness over long periods, although a hit of a few seconds seems to have no long-term effect. That’s why they are predicted to become increasingly popular following their Tbilisi demo debut. “It’s like a water cannon,” said one observer, “but without the grazed knees.”
When will it happen?
9 March 2008.
Who are the frontrunners?
Spain’s socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is favourite to win a second term. His main rival, conservative Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy, suffers from a charisma deficiency.
And the outsiders?
Anti-nationalist Ciutadans, led by lawyer Albert Rivera, may be a surprise. Crucial to Zapatero if he fails to win a majority will be nationalists in Catalonia, through Esquerra Republicana Catalunya, and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). A new party, Progress and Democracy, made up of disillusioned philosophers and writers, stand no chance but may add colour.
What are the key issues?
The economy will be central but issues like Zapatero’s failure to secure peace with the Basque terrorists Eta will be exploited by the opposition.
Will anything change?
The Socialists are likely to romp home but the style of the contest will change. Rajoy has signed up to Facebook in pursuit of the youth vote, while Zapatero has finally used his glamorous, opera-singing wife to full effect as the campaign trail speeds up.