Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Early in the Games, Glimpses of China's Security Struggles

August 14, 2008

By Edward Cody
The Washington Post Foreign Service
August 11, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 10 -- Violence and bloodshed marring the first two days
of the Beijing Olympics provided a dramatic reminder that there is no
such thing as perfect security in a country as vast as China, with so
many people nursing grievances against the authoritarian government.

In violence that attracted the widest attention, an American was
stabbed to death and his wife was seriously wounded Saturday while
they visited a Beijing monument; their Chinese guide was slightly
injured. Far from the capital, at least 11 people were killed and
four were wounded Sunday during confrontations between security
forces and suicide bombers in a remote corner of the tense Xinjiang
region of far western China.

The casualty list in both incidents was relatively short, but the
impact was extensive. Not only did the violence occur against the
backdrop of the Olympic Games, with their tradition of fellowship and
harmony, and at a time when the world's eyes are trained on China.
But the Chinese Communist Party had made security a dominant part of
its role as Olympic host, with a deployment of soldiers, police and
civilian block wardens so smothering that some foreigners griped that
it risked taking the fun out of the Games.

President Hu Jintao and other senior officials repeatedly had
emphasized to Chinese security forces that maintaining order during
the Olympics was the most important facet of the two-week period --
and the one most likely to affect China's image. Their concentration
on preventing violence or protest reflected determination to use the
Games as a platform to display China's progress over the past three
decades and its openness to foreigners after years of isolation.

Accordingly, the Chinese government reacted swiftly. Hu expressed
condolences for the stabbing to President Bush at a bilateral meeting
Sunday afternoon and said Chinese authorities were taking it
seriously. Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing
Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, also expressed his dismay
and said security would be strengthened at Beijing's tourist attractions.

Security forces also seemed to be having trouble enforcing their ban
on protests. Five foreign activists -- two Americans, two Canadians
and a Tibetan emigrant from Germany -- were detained after holding up
Tibetan flags and unfurling a banner reading "Tibetans are dying for
freedom," according to Students for a Free Tibet. A number of other
foreign pro-Tibetan protesters have been deported for staging similar
protests, including one the day of the Opening Ceremonies.

Security deployments appeared to have thickened at Olympic venues and
around Beijing, adding to the 100,000 soldiers and police and the 1.7
million volunteer wardens already mobilized.

Four plainclothes men, with party buttons on their shirts, and two
uniformed wardens stood guard at the main entrance to the Friendship
Store on Chang'an Avenue, for instance, and three People's Armed
Police troopers, instead of the usual two, monitored comings and
goings at the nearby Qi Jia Juan diplomatic compound. Visitors to the
Place, an upscale shopping mall, were greeted by five layers of
security guards: People's Armed Police in the street, local police
strolling around outside shops, mall security guards at entrances,
private security personnel walking the hallways, and employees
wearing "safety worker" badges inside each business.

"I think in China it has to be this way," said Birgitt Buhrdel, 46, a
visitor from Cologne, Germany, who said she was initially troubled by
the sight of so many police but now is glad to have them. "We feel
more assured that as a Western tourist you are not in danger."

Visitors have been subjected to pat-downs and bag inspections at
Beijing train and subway stations and prominent monuments for the
past few weeks. But a tour company manager said visitors to the Drum
Tower, where the stabbing occurred, were not being checked Saturday.
The 13th-century monument remained closed Sunday.

The attacker, who committed suicide immediately after the stabbing,
was identified as Tang Yongming, 47. The Beijing Municipal Government
said he came to the capital Aug. 1 from Hangzhou, in Zhejiang
province 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, adding that the motive for
his travel remained unclear. But the Hong Kong-based Information
Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Sunday that he had come to
file a petition with the central government seeking redress for an
unknown grievance.

Such petitions have long been popular in China, dating from imperial
days. In the lead-up to the Olympics, however, the Communist Party
repeated orders to local governments to resolve disputes at home to
prevent people from coming to Beijing to seek attention for their
causes. In response, several local security officials took to
detaining disgruntled citizens if they tried to travel to Beijing.

There were no accounts from witnesses about whether Tang said
anything before the stabbings or his suicidal leap from the tower's
second floor. Although the general level of such violence is low in
China, explosions of pent-up fury are far from unknown among the
country's 1.3 billion people, many of whom feel authoritarian
one-party rule leaves them without recourse in disagreements with officials.

A bus was blown up in Shanghai recently, for instance, and a man
upset with an earlier arrest there burst into a police station and
stabbed six policemen to death. Two people were killed last month in
two bus bombs in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in southwest
China. And 10 Australian tourists were briefly taken hostage in March
by a man with a bomb strapped to his body in Xian, home of the famed
terra cotta warriors.

A little-known group advocating independence for Xinjiang's
predominantly Muslim Uighur population said it had carried out the
Kunming bombings. But Chinese authorities expressed doubts about that
claim. However, an attack last Monday that killed 16 border guards
and wounded 16 others in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar was officially
blamed on Uighur separatists trained by foreign-based groups linked
to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

Authorities told the official New China News Agency that Sunday's
attacks were carried out by 15 people in Kucha, halfway between
Kashgar and the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi, but did not
assign blame. No organization asserted responsibility for the
operation, but it bore the hallmarks of previous Uighur separatist
attacks on government installations.

The two main attacks began with a three-wheeled motor scooter that
drove into a Public Security Bureau compound with explosive devices
that went off about 2:30 a.m., killing a policeman and injuring four
other people. Police shot and killed one of the bombers and another
killed himself, they said. That was followed by a clash six hours
later between police and five would-be bombers at a market, the
agency reported, in which police shot two men dead and three blew
themselves up.

In a statement that differed slightly from the official agency's
account, police said that their gunfire killed eight in all and that
two bombers blew themselves up, while one police officer was killed.

The entire county, with about 400,000 inhabitants, was cordoned off
later Sunday and police ordered all government offices and businesses
closed while security forces swept through the area.

Uighur separatists have been waging a long, sometimes violent
campaign to shake off rule by China's Han majority. Several groups,
including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Turkestan
Islamic Party, have vowed to carry out attacks during the Games to
publicize the Uighur cause.

Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language and look more like Central
Asians, have long chafed under Beijing's rule and resent the steady
influx of Han Chinese immigrants who make up half the region's
population and hold the key levers of government and economic power.

Correspondent Ariana Eunjung Cha, staff writer Michael Abramowitz and
researcher Crissie Ding contributed to this report.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank