By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese government is flooding Beijing with armed police and up to one million security “volunteers” to head off any unrest over October’s sensitive anniversary of 60 years of Communist Party rule.
The relentless security has grounded pigeons, lined streets with grandmothers, prompted warnings to stock up on food and left harried residents wondering who the festivities are really for.
The authorities are pulling out all the stops to ensure that when the world’s third largest economy celebrates six decades of the People’s Republic with a massive parade on October 1, nothing disrupts the party — certainly not ordinary spectators.
Officials have been coy about what threats they fear but say they are not over-reacting, pointing to recent protests in the remote regions of Tibet and Xinjiang as a reminder that the country is vulnerable to security threats.
Domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, in remarks carried by the official Xinhua agency last week, called for a “people’s war” to ensure Beijing’s stability.
One million “volunteers,” many of them retirees working on Party-controlled neighborhood committees, will swarm through the city’s streets to “guarantee security, communications and celebration activities,” state-run Xinhua said.
Paramilitary police are also patrolling in greater numbers than usual, some of them armed.
The parade will feature military hardware and other trophies of China’s growing strength and confidence.
But the many steps accompanying the celebrations underscore the Party’s fear of any unrest that could challenge its authority, reminding citizens about who is in control.
LOCK UP YOUR PIGEONS
Barely a day goes by without new measures being promulgated, some of which border on the bizarre. Mailing liquids or powders, including soap and toothpaste, has been banned.
Any private tourist or leisure flights are also banned. Pigeon fanciers have been told to lock their birds in the coop.
On the day itself, when a mass military parade will pass through central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, residents whose houses line the parade route will be banned from opening their windows or going onto their balconies.
This is to “ensure the smooth progress of the National Day celebrations,” according to one letter sent to residents.
Hotels have been told they are not to rent rooms which face Changan Avenue, the main road along which the parade will travel.
Other people living near the center of town are being told they cannot have guests to stay over the period, and to stock up on food in case they are stopped from going outside.
“Please reduce your going out as possibly as you can,” police have written, in rather shaky English, to foreigners in one neighborhood not far from Tiananmen Square. “While having to go out, please definitely take your passport.”
Those who do venture out face ever-tightening security, ranging from random identity card checks on the subway to hours-long waits at security checkpoints on all roads leading into the city.
“I really have no idea what’s going on here. Nobody’s told us anything,” complained interior designer Xiao Yu, 26, as he sat in his car at a roadblock outside of Beijing. “It’s a real waste of my time.”
A few brave souls have taken to the internet to express their frustrations in a country where overly critical public comments can attract unwanted attention from the government.
“Last year, there were security checks for the Olympics; this time, it’s for national day celebrations. Why there are so many annoying security checks?” wrote a blogger called Boluomi on the popular portal http://www.sina.com.cn.