For the mainland leadership, a successful Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 will be the ultimate symbol of China's rising international status and the perfect opportunity to burnish its international image. As they are pulling out all stops to staging the best-ever Olympics, they should have little worry over staking the claim on the so-called hardware. The construction of Olympic venues and other facilities including the acclaimed national stadium known as the Bird's Nest and the indoor swimming centre known as the Water Cube are on time. Neither transport nor accommodation will be a problem, judging by construction cranes dotting the skylines. What worries the Chinese leaders is the software, or services - namely how to make tens of thousands of athletes, foreign leaders, journalists and millions of overseas tourists feel comfortable and enjoy the Games and hospitality expected from modern and metropolitan Chinese cities like Beijing where main Olympic events will be held. The authorities are making tentative steps. Starting from January 1 next year and until the close of the Paralympics in October 2008, the authorities will ease restrictions on foreign journalists who will no longer require permission of the local authorities to travel to areas outside their base. Journalists from Hong Kong and Taiwan will enjoy more freedom, officials have promised. But officials need to do much more because unfettered access to foreign media will be one of the key benchmarks by which the international community and foreign athletes and tourists will measure the success of the Games. Up until now, China has maintained tight controls over access to international media online or in print. Using the latest word-filter technology, the authorities can block any politically sensitive article on the websites of the international media or any overseas political organisation. To be fair, the authorities have allowed online viewing of mainstream English-language media such as The New York Times or South China Morning Post. But the websites of many others - particularly the overseas-based Chinese-language media including some in Hong Kong and almost all Taiwanese media - are blocked. Just imagine the dismay from athletes, journalists, and tourists when they find their favourite news sites blocked. The same tight controls are also applied to electronic media and newspapers which are currently restricted only to five-star hotels, foreign businessmen and diplomats working in Beijing. As the authorities do not permit overseas newspapers to be printed on the mainland, the newspapers including The International Herald Tribune are printed in Hong Kong and sent by air to Beijing and other major mainland cities. The flight time and other logistics issues mean these morning papers are usually delivered to readers in the evening or even the following day. Because of the tight restrictions, overseas newspapers and publications are also conspicuously absent from the international departure halls of Beijing Capital International Airport or Chinese airlines. It is time that the central government considered lifting controls over access to international news websites and allowed foreign newspapers to be printed on the mainland for a wider circulation not only to the Olympic village but also to all hotels and venues frequented by overseas visitors. With the success of the Games at stake, the mainland leadership can't afford not to.