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October 1, 2009: Beijing Keeps Its Fingers Crossed

With the high-profile celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China just five weeks away, the Chinese authorities have stepped up physical security measures right across the country in general and in Beijing,Tibet and Xingiang in particular. Other sensitive areas receiving special attention are the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan and Shanghai. Special security measures have been taken in towns having a large Uighur migrant population.

2. More than the Tibetans, the Chinese have been particularly worried about the Uighurs and the suspected links of the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan (IMET) with Al Qaeda. Reliable reports from Police sources in Pakistan say that Rehman Malik, the Pakistani Interior Minister, has been requested by the Chinese Ambassador in Islamabad to step up vigilance on the Uighur elements in Pakistan and particularly on the activities of the IMET based in North Waziristan.

3. The Chinese nervousness has been increased by the outbreak of violence in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, on July 5,2009, and the failure of their Ministry of Public Security, which is responsible for internal intelligence and security, to detect the preparations for the violence by the Uighurs. The Ministry of Public Security was as badly caught napping in Xinjiang in July as it was in Tibet in March last year.

4. The Lhasa riots of March,2008, and the Urumqi riots of July,2009, have underlined the weak intelligence capabilities in the peripheral regions. The security authorities did well in preventing any undue incident anywhere in China during the Beijing Olympics of August last year, but their subsequent performance in Xinjiang was unsatisfactory.

5. The Chinese nervousness over possible threats from pro-Al Qaeda elements has been increased by the fact that the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan, which started on August 23,2009, coincides with the weeks preceding the October celebrations, which start on October 1, and will end when the celebrations start in October. Restrictions on the movements and gatherings of Muslims become very difficult during this period and often prove provocative.

6. The security authorities of Beijing staged a simulation exercise on August 11,2009, to test the reflexes of the local authorites to a terrorist raid into the capital. Scanty details of the exercise available so far indicate that one of the scenarios apprehended by the Chinese security is a complex, multi-target, multi-modus operandi terrorist attack of the kind witnessed by Mumbai between November 26 and 29,2008. Similar complex attacks have subsequently been seen in Kabul, Khost, Kandahar and Peshawar, but not on the same scale as in Mumbai. The security agencies in all these places were caught napping.

7. While widespread disturbances of the kind seen in Lhasa and Urumqi would require dozens of law-breakers, a terrorist attack of the kind witnessed in Mumbai required less than a dozen well-motivated and well-trained terrorists. The IMET has such well-motivated and well-trained members in its ranks and could create havoc if they manage infiltrate into Beijing.

8. The security precautions all over China are being planned on the same scale as were taken during the Beijing Olympics. The “China Daily” of August 24,2009, has given details of some of these security measures. Relevant extracts from its report are annexed. (24-8-09)

( The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

ANNEXURE

Extracts from the report carried by the “China Daily” on August 24,2009

Over the weekend, police activated hundreds of checkpoints developed for last year’s Olympic Games to beef up checks on people and vehicles entering the city.

Xu Ke, a driver who constantly travels between Handan in Hebei province and Beijing, said Sunday the toll station at the Beijing end of the Hebei-Beijing expressway has been fitted with new security-scanning machines.

Thousands of militia soldiers have also been deployed to watch key infrastructure such as bridges, overpasses, railways and highway tunnels, according to the police bureau.

Security measures have also been tightened in the city’s subway system and key areas such as Tian’anmen Square.

All bags carried by subway passengers are subject to security checks, and armed police officers and plainclothes officers will patrol more often in Tian’anmen Square.

Bags taken into the square are being checked, China Daily noted over the weekend.

Taxi drivers have also been told to report any suspicious customers to police, especially along Chang’an Avenue, a major thoroughfare that runs along Tian’anmen Square, the latest issue of Southern Weekly reported.

The report also said the Beijing Radio Administration Bureau is screening radio devices in the city, especially near Tian’anmen Square, Chang’an Avenue and three “parade villages” where civilians and troops participating in the parade are exercising.

Meanwhile, gas stations have been asked to be wary of customers buying gasoline with containers. Stations are required to question the purpose of the purchase, and keep a copy of the buyer’s ID card and contact information.

The administration also asks gas stations make contingency plans in case of emergencies, including terrorist attacks, administration director Zhang Jiaming was quoted by the local media as saying.

In June, a 62-year-old man ignited a bucket of gas he bought at a local station on a bus in Chengdu, killing 27 people, including himself.

Local communities have also been mobilized as an important supplement to police. The city’s police bureau said ideally about 800,000 people would be involved, including college students, retired and self-employed residents. They will wear red armbands and watch for suspicious strangers around their communities.

Wang Taiyuan, a professor with the Chinese People’s Public Security University, said these measures are a comprehensive system to improve security ahead of National Day.

He said unlike last year’s Olympic Games, threats for National Day are more likely to come from inside the country than from abroad.

“However, the security work for the coming event is by no means easier. Some of the threats, such as Tibetan and Xinjiang Uygur separatists, may not give up the opportunity (to disrupt the celebration),” Wang said.

Li Wei, director of the center for counter-terrorism studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, also said the risk of violence and terrorism rose after the July 5 riot in Urumqi in Xinjiang.

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