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Exotic dishes face Olympian chop

Chinese officials should ensure that shark's fin, swallow's nest, bear's paw, snake and other dishes that might "upset" foreigners are removed from restaurants before the 2008 Olympics, state media on Wednesday quoted a local lawmaker as saying.

"Serving shark's fin to foreign guests during the Olympic Games could greatly hurt China's image, and officials should start removing the dish from the dining tables right now," the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xu Zhihong, a Beijing deputy to the National People's Congress, as saying.

"It is not only an environmental issue but one that has a direct bearing on the image of Chinese people," said Xu, who is also the president of Beijing University.

The agency said imports of shark's fin had continued to rise in recent years despite campaigns to persuade Chinese people not to eat it. The dish is "quite often a must on local governments' reception menus," Xu said.

NBA basketball star Yao Ming last year urged Chinese citizens to join him in giving up shark's fin soup as he helped to launch a wildlife protection group's campaign to save endangered species.

Yao and other Chinese celebrities also appeared in short commercials used by San Francisco-based WildAid in a campaign to urge Chinese people not to buy ivory and other products from endangered species.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that 100 million sharks are caught annually, but some experts said they believe the true figure could be up to 200 million.

Most sharks are caught solely for their fins and are dumped back into the sea to die once the fins have been hacked off, WildAid said.