For China's Olympic guests, a not-so-warm welcome
Beijingers say added security rules could stifle the Games.
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Such moves appear designed to reduce the workload for the 100,000 security agents – policemen, militarized police, security guards, and volunteers – that the city says it will mobilize for the Games. At the same time, 300 specialists in nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks will be on alert starting July 1, officials say, along with 100,000 commandos and ordinary soldiers in reserve.Skip to next paragraph
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A terrorist attack tops the authorities' list of security concerns, according to the police. They are especially concerned by the threat they see from militants demanding independence for the western province of Xinjiang, largely populated by the Muslim Uighur people. Earlier this year, the police announced they had foiled a plot by Uighur separatists to blow up a plane flying from the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi to Beijing.
Large gatherings canceled
But the government also appears nervous about large gatherings of foreigners. Last month the government banned a pop-music festival that traditionally attracts foreign bands and large numbers of foreign residents. It also canceled a conference of the Holland-based Institute of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences for which 6,500 international academics had registered.
"What has happened around the torch has resulted in a stepping-up of the whole security issue, and security weighs heavily on all the decisionmaking now," said Hein Verbruggen, the IOC official in charge of overseeing preparations for the Olympics, recently.
The result, fears Mr. van Kerckhove, will be that Beijing "will be a police city. There will be no mood ... because everything will be controlled."
The controls extend to even the smallest detail. Chinese sports fans have been provided an official cheer, designed by the ruling Communist Party's Office of Spiritual Civilization Development and Guidance, involving raised thumbs, clapping, fist punching, and the chant "Go Olympics, go China."
Foreign visitors will be permitted to choose their own cheers, but they will have to abide by the rules published recently on the website of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games. These include a warning that "any illegal gatherings, parades, and protests and refusal to comply are subject to administrative punishment or criminal prosecution."
The guide also lists materials that may not be brought into China, such as items "that are harmful to China's politics, economics, culture, and morals."
It is still not clear just how many foreigners will attend the Games. Officials have said they expect half a million visitors from abroad, but difficulty in obtaining visas and tickets to Olympic events could reduce that number.
Only 25 percent of tickets to this year's games were allocated to international sales – half the proportion that organizers of the Athens Olympics sold abroad in 2004. Organizers point out that China is the most populous nation to host the Games, but their decision has made it harder for foreigners to buy tickets.
That may explain disappointingly slow bookings for hotels at a time when Beijing was meant to be bursting with visitors. Although the city's five-star hotels, where Olympic and national officials will stay, are registering a 77 percent occupancy during the Games, four-star hotels have so far filled only 44 percent of their rooms, according to Zhang Huiguang, director of the Beijing Tourism Bureau.
The figure "is even lower for three- and two-star hotels," she told reporters recently.