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Beijing Olympics: Chinese tanks watch over media centre

August 15, 2008

The Chinese government has sent tanks to watch over the Olympic media
centre in an extraordinary show of force as they tighten their
control over their own journalists.
By Richard Spencer in Beijing
The Telegraph (UK)
August 13, 2008

The move, which was imposed over the heads of the Beijing Olympic
Committee, was a vivid illustration of the continuing power of the
Communist Party even as the country has been opened to unprecedented
from the outside world.

It followed a letter sent to the editors of all newspapers in the
country containing 21 rules for reporting during the Olympics.

The letter, leaked to The Daily Telegraph, lays particular stress on
anything to do with foreigners and is clearly aimed at preventing any
events that undermine the show of national unity that has surrounded
the Games being released to the general public.

The armoured personnel carriers, unprecedented at recent Games, were
stationed at either end of the main press centre, one of a number of
increased security measures put in place around Beijing. Armed police
stood with sub-machine guns in key areas, including at the press
centre entrances.

They appeared to come as a surprise to the Beijing Olympic Committee,
which said it had not been made aware of the reasons for the action.

Police have warned of the threat to the Olympics of terrorism,
particularly from the ethnic muslim Uighurs of the far west, which
has seen three major terror attacks in the last nine days.

But it was noticeable that the tanks were not protecting the stadiums
or other venues likely to see large numbers of members of the general public.

While their guns were covered, they contained troops and their
presence, inside the inner security cordon on the Olympic Green
through which only accredited journalists had access, seemed more
targeted at the reporters, including Chinese ones, working at the centre.

The authorities are concerned that major security incidents that
threaten foreigners, and particularly the all-important foreign
investment, might form a toxic reaction with both nationalist and
liberal sentiments in newspapers. Local journalists are operating
alongside a larger foreign media presence than at any time in China's history.

In recent times China has been reluctant to show off on the streets
the military power that underpins its rule, particularly since the
Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. No Red Square-style military
parades have been held since the 50th anniversary of Chairman Mao
sweeping to power in 1999.

The mobilised units come from the People's Armed Police, the troops
entrusted with internal security. They formed the bulk of the armed
force sent to put down protest in Tibet in March, as well as
providing the famous blue-suited "Olympic Torch" guards seen on the
streets of London and Paris in April.

It is not clear what precise connection they have to recent events
such as the killing of Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of a US
volleyball coach, by a lone assailant at the historic Drum Tower in
northern Beijing.

The authorities have been keen to say that the attack was "not
related to the Olympics" and was the work of a man who had suffered a
series of failures in his business and personal life. Local
newspapers have been told to provide only brief reports, which must
not mention the Games.

Chinese reporters who attended a press conference with the US
volleyball team later had their notebooks and tape-recorders removed
by officials.

But there were reports in Hong Kong that the man had a long-term
grievance against the authorities. His choice of the Drum Tower may
also have had symbolic importance - in the 1920s it was renamed the
Tower of Realising Shamefulness and used to house exhibitions
illustrating China's grievances with western powers.

In any case, the fact that the attacker was able to inflict such
damage on a foreigner, and had time to then commit suicide without
being apprehended, would have triggered nerves through the
leadership, which has prided itself on its tight security controls
throughout the city.

Chinese media will also be aware, as many foreigners are not, that
nationalist sentiment often gives way to anti-government protest in China.

The list of 21 rules for covering the Olympics shows how far the
party is prepared to go in asserting its rule, and especially its
control over the media.

Many are only to be expected - bans on writing about pro-Tibet
protesters, or about the internet curbs that were relaxed in Beijing
after visiting journalists and the International Olympic Committee protested.

But on all matters to do with foreign affairs, the party line must
also be followed closely.

Some are unusually specific: "In case of an emergency involving
foreign tourists, please follow the official line," says number 17.
"If there's no official line, stay away from it."

It also warns against hyping nationalist expectations over the Games.
Journalists are banned from making medal predictions - which might
not be met - and its final instruction is unequivocal.

"Refrain from publishing comment pieces at odds with the official
propangada line of the Chinese delegation," it says.
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