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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 01:50 GMT
A giant airport for China's vast ambition
Beijing's gigantic new airport terminal is due to open on Friday. The BBC's James Reynolds has been to see it.

It's more like a small country than an airport terminal.

Its architects, Foster and Partners, describe it as the biggest building in the world, and it is larger than all the terminals of London's Heathrow airport put together.

Beijing's new airport terminal

China wants to make an impact.

If you ever manage to get out here, China wants you to be impressed, preferably awe-struck, as soon as you land.

From the sky, the new airport terminal is designed to look like a Chinese dragon - although this is not immediately obvious.

Skylights in the roof are meant to symbolise the dragon's scales.

Built at speed

The terminal is now getting ready for its first passengers.

The floor has such a shine that it reflects the lights from the roof.

Security guards in new red jackets several sizes too big for them stand around looking serious.

What took 200 years to urbanise here in Europe is taking just 20 years in China
Lord Foster,
UK architect of new terminal

Some women take turns weighing themselves on the baggage-weighing machine.

When it is open, this terminal will be able to handle 50 million passengers a year.

Beijing's airport is already the 9th-busiest in the world. Soon, it will rise even higher.

Anyone who runs Heathrow Airport may want to look away now.

Beijing's terminal is twice the size and about half the cost of Heathrow's new Terminal Five, which is due to open next month.

Beijing has got from start to finish in four years. Heathrow has taken nearly 20.

Of course, in China the government does not have to ask the public's permission to do what it wants.

There is no lengthy public consultation process here. No demonstrations are allowed. There are no unions to make labour demands. And building work has gone on for 24 hours a day.

"It takes the same amount of time to build that entire airport as one terminal in terms of just the public inquiry [for Heathrow]," says Lord Foster.

"But what took 200 years to urbanise here in Europe is taking just 20 years in China. So the pace of change is extraordinarily fast."

Skyline revolution

Wherever you look in Beijing, new buildings are going up.

The new Olympic stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, will be finished in a few weeks' time.

An elaborate new concert hall, designed to look like a UFO, has just opened for its first performance - in the city's eastern district.

The jagged towers of China Central Television's new headquarters are rising quickly.

This city is spending 20bn ($39bn) to look good for the Olympics.

One human rights group, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, says that 1.25 million people have been moved from their homes to make way for construction.

'A nation's dream'

But Beijing officials are proud of the speed of their work. So there was one question to put to them at the news conference marking the opening of the new airport.

Officials at the airport news conference
We did it in four years in order to realise the dream of the Chinese people
Dong Zhiyi, Beijing Capital International Airport

"Beijing's new terminal took four years, Heathrow nearly 20 - whose way is best ?" I asked.

The officials on stage laughed.

"London took 20 years - so they have a long-term view in design," said Dong Zhiyi from Beijing Capital International Airport, as politely as he could.

"As for us, we did it in four years in order to realise the dream of the Chinese people.

"In China we have a different cultural background. We have a tradition in China of focusing all of our resources into a big project.

"The opening of Terminal Three is proof of the Chinese people's talent and hard work."

The crowd watching the news conference then applauded.

The people of Beijing do not have a say in how their city develops. In return, they get a brand-new modern airport.

Their country is now ready to outdo the rest of the world.

A look around Beijing's new airport terminal

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