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Why security is tighter in Beijing

Measures include checkpoints around the city and missiles by the Olympic stadium.

By Staff writer / July 31, 2008

Securing the Olympics: China is mobilizing 100,000 officers in an unprecedented level of security for the Beijing Games. Here, police march to the National Stadium.

Oded Balilty/AP

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Beijing

From missile batteries around the stadium to neighborhood watches, from SWAT teams to bar closures, from random ID checks to a visa clampdown, Beijing’s panoply of security measures outstrips anything ever mounted for the Olympics.

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China’s efforts reflect more than the government’s desire to protect athletes and spectators from terrorists or unruly protesters. The unprecedented drive for control also illustrates how much more broadly China views security than most other countries.

Beijing views “anything that might ‘harm China’s reputation’ as a security threat” says Drew Thompson, a China analyst at the Nixon Center in Washington. “That extends to any group seeking to push an agenda that is not aligned with the government’s propaganda.”

This means the authorities are determined to block unauthorized demonstrations and public criticism of official policy, which in their view might undermine security, as well as terrorist attacks during the Games.

In an editorial last week, the People’s Armed Police News, the official organ of one of the key forces responsible for Olympic security, placed the threats side by side.

“Western anti-China forces are striving for opportunities to disrupt the games,” it said. “International terrorist forces are itching to strike ... and hostile domestic forces’s disruption and sabotage activities against the Games are steadily unfolding.”

The effects of this approach are myriad: A visa clampdown has weeded out foreign visitors and residents who might join in demonstrations. New regulations have closed dozens of Beijing bars and clubs where large numbers of young people might gather. The city’s university campuses are off-limits to all non-residents. University students without Beijing residence permits have been sent home. Dissidents have been detained or put under house arrest. Foreign journalists’ Internet access is being censored.

In a similar vein, policemen who were embarrassed last Friday by an unruly crowd waiting to buy Olympic tickets assaulted TV crews filming the scuffles and broke their equipment.

“There will definitely be an expectations gap between what the Chinese government is planning and what international participants expect,” says Mr. Thompson. “There are very different norms in terms of personal freedoms.”

Dealing with terrorist threats
The Chinese authorities are also worried about more standard security threats to the Olympics. Officials say police have foiled several terrorist plots in recent months by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group demanding independence for Xinjiang, a region in China’s far west populated mainly by the Muslim Uighur minority.

Fears heightened last week with the appearance of a video issued by a group widely thought to be linked to ETIM threatening to “target the most critical points related to the Olympics ... using tactics that have never been employed.”

In the video, featuring two masked gunmen, a spokesman claimed responsibility for two bus bombings that struck the southwestern city of Kunming ten days ago, killing two people, and for two other bus bombs in Shanghai last May. Chinese police, however, said none of the explosions were linked to terrorism.

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