The Olympic Games begin in less than 36 hours and the atmosphere in Beijing is all but celebratory. Beijing has taken on a militaristic air with worries of terrorism and protests. Authorities are gearing up their forces and are issuing a slew of security measures that locals say has transformed Beijing into a war zone.
Above and beyond traditional Olympics security measures, China is deploying its military en masse into Beijing for its biggest international event in recent history. The country has spent over $6.5 billion on security in the Beijing area alone, according to an April article in the New York Times.
There is an anti-terror force of over 100,000 people, Security guards number over 150,000 and 290,000 volunteers have been deployed to keep order over the past few months, reported the Xinhua News Agency, China’s official state-run media.
In addition to ground troops, 33 helicopters, 48 naval vessels, and 74 airplanes have been deployed to guard Beijing.
Areas surrounding Beijing have also been subject to heavy military presence. Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang and Qingdao cities have a reported total over 100,000 troops keeping watch.
In early July, the state-run People’s Daily newspaper reported that seven Hongqi missile launchers were deployed around the $500 million Bird’s Nest stadium and other Olympics facilities to fend off air attacks. A no-fly zone was issued around universities and schools, banning all model air planes and hot-air balloons for what the public security bureau describes as “general safety reasons.”
New policies in Beijing designed to protect the Olympics are drawing sharp criticisms from locals who describe the changes as unbearable. Critics are complaining that the policies issued within the past year are meant to drive residents out of the city. Some companies in Beijing encouraging employees to leave the city during the games further fueled discontent.
Locals Not Impressed
“I think that regular [Chinese] people have no chance of watching this game,” said Heng Zhang, a 24 year-old Beijinger. In late July, Zhang was required to sign an “Etiquette Behavior Promise” before his residency was approved by local residential committee. When the Olympic torch passed by his office, all employees were required to sign a form promising “proper behavior” during that period of time.
“It’s also really hard to accept that everyone has to readjust [their] life and work plans just for this so-called Face-saving Project [the Olympics],” Zhang said.
Across the city, laborers are being expelled. In February, Xinhua News Agency reported that all workers who do not have residential cards are forced to leave the city before the Olympics. Residents who only have temporary residential cards are forced to re-apply, a long process where very few residents obtain the permits.
Restrictions on vehicles entering Beijing city limits are being imposed as vehicles with even license numbers only being allowed to enter the city on days ending with even numbers. Vehicles with a license plate ending with an odd number are only allowed into the city on odd numbered days.
Vehicles are also required to pass through what the Beijing Public Security Bureau calls “three defense lines”—a number of stops in surrounding areas on major roads. Cars found without proper licenses or anyone deemed “suspicious” may be turned back. Even large commercial vehicles and trucks carrying food and commodities are sometimes prohibited.
Chinese authorities are saying the security efforts are preventative measures designed to protect the games from potential terrorist threats.
At a rally made of security volunteers on July 9, Vice President Xi Jinping, the senior-most Communist Party official overseeing the games commented that a “safe Olympics is the biggest indicator of the success of the games.”
'One World, One Dream' Dashed
When the International Olympics Committee handed Beijing the right to host the Games, it is believed China saw it as an opportunity to debunk its menacing image and as a way to reach out a friendly hand to the international community. The official slogan given to the 2008 games is “One world, one dream.”
That dream, however, was shattered by a series of events transpiring within months. First, director Stephen Spielberg pulled out as creative director for the opening ceremony of the games over China’s continuing support of the Sudanese government’s genocide in Darfur. Then hopes for a peaceful Olympics were marred by the Communist Party's handling of riots in Tibet. International furore was raised again during the course of the Olympics torch relay where human rights protesters by the thousand greeted the torch with some chasing after it with extinguishers.
According to China analyst Sujia Gong, these events have shocked Chinese authorities. He said the regime was expecting the games to be a display of China’s rise as a world power. What Chinese officials overlooked was the boiling discontent amongst the Chinese people and increased international pressure for the Chinese regime to improve its human rights record.
“They [Chinese regime] didn’t expect the international community to push so hard,” Gong said. “They weren’t expecting it. What they expected was the Olympics to be a grand show where world leaders go to Beijing to justify its power.”
A further disappointment to Chinese officials is the failure of its hard-ball tactics in winning back popular opinion.
A spring survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that international opinion of China had slipped further during the past year in nine countries out of 21. The largest slides were in France and Japan. The Project reported “signs of apprehension about the country and its growing power” amongst the interviewed nations.
International discontent with China’s human rights record is not the only thing putting the Chinese government on edge. Increasing local contempt at corrupt local officials and the central government’s lack of improvement has stirred protests across the country, mainly in low-income rural areas.
The scale and intensity of Beijing’s security crack down has put into question the real threat that Beijing is running from. To China analysts, Beijing is protecting itself against is the large wave of domestic dissent and political protest that has hit China over the past year.
Every year tens of thousands of protest spurs across China and the frequency has been increasing in recent years especially after the Sichuan Earthquake in May 2008. Dissent among Chinese citizens reached another high in Weng An City when 10,000 people rioted in the streets smashed windows and set vehicles on fire over the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl.
According to Gong, the Chinese government fears losing political stability and discontent amongst residents have become a threat to the Communist Party’s control. The Olympics was a scapegoat for the government. By diverting attention from domestic problems to the Olympics, the Chinese government was ensuring its survival, said Gong.
Heavy security around Olympic venues have become especially important in blocking Tibetans, Uyghurs, and after the deadly Sichuan Earthquake in May, protestors dissatisfied with the government’s handling of emergency response and allowance of the use of faulty buildings that caused the death of school children.