BEIJING - Lock up your pigeons!
That is the order that has gone out from the Beijing city government, as the authorities blanket the capital with the strictest security regime imposed here for decades in the run-up to Thursday’s military parade marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of “New China.”
No pigeon flying, nor balloon loosing, is permitted within a 125 mile radius of Tiananmen Square until the end of the anniversary holiday on Oct. 8. Even kites, common ornaments in the Beijing sky, have been banned.
No explanation for such harsh measures has been forthcoming. Could the government fear that a trained bird might drop a poisoned dart on President Hu Jintao’s head as he arrives in his open-top “Red Flag” presidential limousine?
More likely, perhaps, the People’s Air Force is worried that pigeons might get sucked into the air intake of the jet planes that will be swooping over Tiananmen in Thursday morning’s fly-by.
Other officials are nervous about threats to the proceedings closer to the sidewalk. “Dog owners should try to cut back on dog-walking during the holidays so as to avoid any disturbance” reads one wall poster in the central Beijing district of Dongcheng. Walking your dog anywhere near the parade route is forbidden.
Ignore the parade
The Chinese government is making a very big deal indeed out of its 60th birthday. The parade will show off China’s latest military hardware, normally shrouded in the sort of secrecy that now surrounds the exact nature of the entire 60th show.
Ordinary citizens have been kept well away from night-time rehearsals of the parade. Indeed they will be kept away from the event itself, and people living in apartments overlooking the route have been warned not to watch the parade from their balconies, nor even to open their windows.
We have been told, though, that the firework display will be twice as large as last year’s Olympic spectacular, and the municipal government is trying to conjure a festive air by decorating Beijing’s avenues with red paper lanterns and brightly colored bunting. More and more private cars are sprouting patriotic little Chinese flags.
Less convivial are the black-uniformed patrols of SWAT police, sometimes accompanied by large dogs, who can be seen at railway stations and on street corners, keeping an eye on things.
Beijing is on the highest security alert allowed outside wartime, and it shows. Postal services have been delayed, as every package arriving in the capital undergoes a special screening; subway commuters have to put up with even more of a rush-hour crush as each of their bags goes through an X-ray machine. Plainclothes and uniformed policemen guard the city’s bridges.
As a reporter, I have applied for a seat next to the reviewing stand on Thursday, and hope to get a privileged view of what all the fuss is about. Like all foreign correspondents, however, I am having to wait to find out whether my application for a place has been approved.
We will be told, it appears, only 48 hours before the parade. Presumably for security reasons.