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Bring ’em on

Actually I’m not sure if China is preparing for a sports event, i.e. running around in circles, jumping over obstacles, throwing things, generally fooling around and having a good time, or about to go to war. Reading websites such as the China Daily [CD] and the Shanghai Daily [SD] you might be excused for believing the latter and that China is under threat of imminent attack.

“Missile launchers have been assigned to the Bird’s Nest National Stadium. Any perceived threats to Games venues from the air will be shot down.” in this bulletin.

“The Navy will ensure security at sea as the coastal city of Qingdao hosts sailing events.
Special task forces have also been trained to deal with nuclear or biochemical attacks.”

Nothing is being left to chance; land sea, air, nuclear, biological or chemical attacks have all been planned for and will be dealt with summarily. There is obviously a very powerful enemy afoot.

Sniffer dog patrols are out on duty as far way as Anhui province. Road security is stepped up, as shown in this bulletin, and in the Shanghai Daily report referenced above –

“From the beginning of next week every vehicle coming to Beijing will undergo a security check.

Hundreds of check points will be set up at the road entrances to Beijing, ring roads and downtown to ensure a safe Olympic Games.

Each vehicle entering the capital during the Games will be checked electronically and by sniffer dogs.

Bus passengers traveling to Beijing will have their ID cards and belongings checked from July 20.

If just one passenger fails to show a valid ID card, the bus and all its passengers will be refused entry to the city.”

The government has taken its fight against terror overseas and set up a cooperating body, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [SCO] with neighbouring countries – Russia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The first thing to notice about them is that they are all pretty dodgy regimes and all have little or no regard for basic human rights; not exactly the sort of freedom-loving partners most western governments would want to line up with.

If all this were just for show then why fuss over it, but the PRC government seems to be taking its own propaganda very seriously indeed – one might almost be lead to think it actually believes it – and these measures could cause a lot of hassle for any visitors to Beijing. Just take the last statement in the SD report regarding the possibility of a passengers being refused entry because one ID card/passport doesn’t look quite right. A whole busload of people brassed off in one fell swoop. That’s efficiency for you. There is more than ample scope for rubbing people up the wrong way and knowing the government’s enthusiasm and skill in these areas it is more than likely there will be a few toes trodden on in the coming weeks. But the most exciting little gem is the promise of a reward for anyone who provides information “about a planned terrorist attack, possible sabotage by an illegal organization, such as the Falun Gong, murder of Olympic-related personnel or foreigners, or some other major crimes“ [notice how the scope widens with each phrase] see CD again. The bulletin says “The tip-off must include accurate and detailed information“, but offering money on this scale [a minimum of 10,000 yuan and a maximum of 500,000 yuan] may be just a little too tempting. Here is an ideal opportunity to settle old scores with anyone you dislike and line your pocket at the same time. Let’s see how many ‘denouncements’ are made this summer and how many victims of this scheme end up behind bars as terrorists.

This question has been asked before but it needs to asked again, and again, and again until we have a real answer, otherwise how can we take China’s War on Terror seriously. What evidence, beyond the political rhetoric, is available to show that “’the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism” [Mr Chen’s words] really do exist in China? None, so far. Maybe one day the government will surprise us by showing police records, photographs and paraphernalia relating to these incidents, but until then we must reserve judgment. Just one more little question; according to the governments own reports, most of these alleged gangs are armed, principally, with knives, so are anti-aircraft missiles, naval deployments and one of the biggest land army mobilisations that has been seen for years [there are as many personnel tied up with this operation as the USA deployed in Iraq] really justified?

Welcome to Beijing 2008.

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A question of security?

The PRC government is making an effort to systematically clear out foreigners residing and working in China, particularly those in Beijing. That the clear-out is widespread is not disputed and no one with a non-Chinese skin is safe no matter how long they have lived in China and no matter what they are there for. For any government to expel illegal immigrants is not unreasonable; there are expatriates living in China with no visa, expired visas or inappropriate visas, so they should not be too surprised when the PSB comes knocking on their door, but this goes much further. The rules regarding the issue of visas have been changed drastically and extensions to existing visas and residency permits are becoming very hard to obtain. Read through almost any blog written by an expatriate in China and you’ll soon get a feel of the problem. What is not so easy to ascertain is why this is happening.

The process started, in a low key way, some time last year when the PRC government began rounding up and deporting evangelists and missionaries [foreign evangelists are illegal in China], as reported on several websites, click here for one of them. Then early this year foreign students in Beijing were told they would have to vacate their quarters during the summer months. At the time a few people thought this a little odd, while others, myself included, felt there was probably a rational explanation somewhere and this was nothing to fuss about. During the Spring the process was extended to illegal migrant workers from neighbouring countries such as North Korea. Several of these ended up in the UK as asylum seekers as they dared not return to face Kim Jong-Il’s regime; several passed through the reception centre not far from where I live. Since then the net has spread and no one seems to be beyond its reach.

As work [‘Z’] and business [‘F”] visas have expired renewal has been denied or the application process made so long and tortuous people have given up and gone away. When ‘Z’ visas have been issued they have been limited to single entry only. Travel visas [‘L’], which once were available in a variety of formats have been reduced to one type only, 30 days, single entry. The days of multiple entry visas are over for now. One very odd rule of thumb has emerged, no one born after 1984 has been granted renewal of a ‘Z’ visa. So if you are a tourist and just wish to make one visit of 2 or 3 weeks this summer, no problem, but if you require anything else be prepared for a long wait and possible disappointment.

If it were just the ne’er-do-wells, who occasionally land up in China, who were affected I would have no qualms and might even applaud the government but this simply isn’t the case. This report on the Cup Of Cha weblog gives a general outline of the picture and this, this and this report from Simpson’s Paradox details the departure of, first, two of the blogger’s friends and not long after, her boyfriend’s sudden departure which will be followed soon by her own. Another well-known blogger has had to return to his home country to go through the visa application process, to the amusement of one or two of the commenters, as detailed in this report on The Opposite End Of China blog. A 71 year old man who who has been running his own company in China for several years has had to leave at short notice, as reported on the Wall Street Journal. And this report on the TIME magazine website outlines the problem and details a few more cases. Root around on the web long enough and you will accumulate a list as long as your arm of expulsion stories.

Another clearing out process has been taking place which doesn’t involve foreigners but could be equally relevant to this question. Dissenters and other trouble makers have been locked up, petty dissenters, petitioners and other undesirables who were a regular feature of the Beijing streets have been moved as far away from tourist areas as possible. This has all been part of the campaign to tidy up the streets and make them more agreeable for western eyes. Walk along any city centre street in Beijing and how many beggars do you see? See Ben’s Blog.

One of the effects, which I find hard to believe was intended, has been a downturn in international tourist traffic. Bookings this year are lower than for the same period last year and even for the month of August itself the figures are not good – see this report on the Economist website.

As to why this has happened we can only theorise. The official reason is ’security’. Whether this makes any sense or not doesn’t seem to matter as the Chinese authorities are determined to put on a show of strength, as shown on this China Daily report. Some of the measures shown are ideal for TV/Photo-ops but not a lot use for dealing with real terrorism or civil disturbances. In previous months the PLA and police have been hard at work undertaking training exercises and now it all comes to fruition in the form of a massive mobilisation and a string of spectacular displays of Chinese strength and prowess. Click on to any Chinese media website [e.g. Xinhua, QQ news] and you will see propaganda photos showing the PSB, PLA, PLAN and almost anyone else who wears a government uniform, going through their paces valiantly defending the motherland and fighting off the evils of the outside world. The PRC government claims to be fighting insurgents in the far west province of Xinjiang in the form of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement [ETIM] which in turn is claimed to be linked to Al’Qaeda. While resentment against the governing Han people does exist amongst the Uygur people of Xinjiang no-one seems to know if ETIM itself genuinely exists. Early this year Xinhua reported a raid on an ETIM gang in Urumqi – click here – and during the spring an airline hi-jacking/sabotage incident was reported – click here. A search on the internet will produce alternative reports of the same incidents but in not one of them is there one item evidence, photographic or otherwise, cited or referred to to prove that these incidents occurred. Even the Xinhua reports themselves, usually published some time after each incident, are devoid of any reference to evidence that the incidents took place. One incident was purported to have taken place in a residential neighbourhood and was said to have resulted in several deaths, but none of the neighbours knew anything of it. All of which calls into question just how real terrorism in China is. Even if it were real, in what way does expelling foreign residents make the Olympic games any more safe? Or is it, as some suggest, just an excuse for a continuing crackdown on anyone the authorities don’t like?

But back to the expulsions. If security is not the real reason for this, what is? Millions of tourists are expected to arrive in Beijing during the Games and along with them will be thousands of news reporters. The authorities want them all to see China at its best and to this end they have been beavering away for several years preparing the infrastructure, the amenities, environment and the people. Over all these elements the government has some degree of control and the authorities have good reason to feel reasonably confident about the preparations, e.g. the people have been put through many re-education programmes, such as how to queue in a civilised manner, how to not spit, how to clap harmoniously, etc, but the one thing the government cannot control is the foreign population [said by some to be around quarter of a million in Beijing]. To speak to a native Beijinger [北京公民] a reporter will probably need an interpreter, and the native Beijinger will probably already know what he must [and not] say to foreign reporters. To speak to a foreign resident would not be quite so irksome – and finding foreigners is remarkably easy, just stand in the high street of any large city and see how easy it is to spot the laowai amongst the surrounding sea of jet black hair and tanned faces – and if the questions were to become too probing who knows what might be said and then reported? Could there be a risk here? So, to present the world with a picture of an unflawed harmonious society the way ahead is to make sure that the only people available on the streets are re-educated natives and first time tourists, that way there will be no embarrassing stories to deal with.

北京欢迎您

Beijing welcomes you.