Friday, March 14, 2008

China stumbles on security balance beam

SMH AU: March 15, 2008

Excerpt --

China intends to mount not only the most spectacular Olympics ever, but also the most heavily protected. But the ghosts of the crushed Tiananmen Square democracy protests and Falun Gong spiritual movement mean that the challenge for China, determined to project itself as a peace-loving, harmonious and responsible world power, is how to do so without looking like a police state.


Beijing will have 90,000-100,000 armed and unarmed police, supplemented by paramilitary outfits such as the 810-strong SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team and commando units such as the 300-strong "Snow Wolves" brigade, unspecified numbers of private security guards and the full force of the country's military, the People's Liberation Army.

It is enlisting a "citizens' army" of up to 600,000 patriotically minded Beijing citizens and students - one for every expected foreign visitor and the 30,000 journalists with a few to spare. The citizen's army, either wearing red or blue Olympic security armbands, will monitor streets, neighbourhoods and other public places to watch out for trouble-makers. Half of the official 100,000 Beijing Olympic volunteers will also be on full-time security duties. A Beijing Olympics source said: "If there's a demo, it will be the local people who stop it because there will be a wave of patriotism, nationalism that will negate the effect of any foreign demonstrations."

Top officers from around the country are being seconded to hone Beijing's security, as well as to supplement security at the other six cities that will host Olympic events: Qingdao (sailing), Hong Kong (equestrian) and Tianjin, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao and Shanghai (soccer).

The People's Liberation Army's new Olympics unit, comprising army, navy and air force personnel, is responsible for border control - to prevent terrorists, Falun Gong followers, Tibet independence groups and others infiltrating during Games time - as well as responding to non-traditional threats such as biochemical and nuclear terrorist attacks.

The state's already extensive internet and phone surveillance systems have also been comprehensively upgraded. The Beijing Municipal Government has spent at least 500 million yuan (about $80 million) on new equipment. Snow Wolves commandos will be carrying at least 300,000 yuan of equipment. Six new computer and technology systems built for the Olympics meet inside the Digital Beijing building on the Olympic Green, close to the Bird's Nest National Stadium.

Digital Beijing is touted as the city's "first government data pool and emergency command centre". It integrates government, police and other security networks and will be able to track phone and web communications in the event of a terrorist attack.

By August Beijing expects to have up to 300,000 surveillance cameras, according to some reports, monitoring subway stations exits and entrances, and major venues will have face-recognition software to search for known trouble-makers.

Non-government video footage - from hotels, restaurants and other private venues - has to be automatically sent to the Public Security Bureau - Beijing Police - where it will reportedly be fed into a vast computer surveillance network and decoded by multilingual voice software that scans for key words and phrases that might indicate a threat. Beijing still trails far behind the 2012 Olympic hosts, London, which has an estimated 500,000 cameras in place.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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