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China relies on people power

world Updated: Sep 14, 2008 23:40 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
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Months before the Olympics, a Delhi Police team was in Beijing to study China's security plans, in preparation for the Commonwealth Games 2010.

China had cited terrorism as the biggest threat to the Beijing Olympics held in August. The capital was sealed with a large-scale rejection of visas and extreme security measures on a scale that may never be repeated by a host nation.

Missiles, unmanned drones and commandos guarded the venues. The airport was locked down during the opening ceremony. Even business visitors to Beijing were denied entry at highway check-posts if they did not have an Olympics ticket or residence permit.

But on the streets, China’s biggest strength was mass people-power in an unprecedented ratio of 1:1. Yes, there were as many security officials and security volunteers as the nearly five-lakh visitors. “The force of the police is limited, but the force of the people is limitless,” the Director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, Ma Zhenchuan, had said.

From main roads to alleys, neighbourhood grandpas and grannies wearing red armbands still perch on stools. They scrutinise each passer-by for suspicious behaviour and instantly report it to the police. The oldest volunteer is 103 years old.

Even fire-fighters were trained to counter-terrorism, and the Bureau offered rewards for tips on security threats. Over three lakh surveillance cameras spied from lampposts, bars and cyber cafés. Police swarmed apartments to check residence papers and dissidents were expelled or guarded under house arrest.

Armed police and sniffer dogs guarded all public transport. At one station, liquid carried by passengers was tested by a handset that identified it as alcohol or gasoline. Commuters swigged water from their bottles to prove it was harmless.

But while Beijing became a fortress, China’s guarded Xinjiang province faced its worst terror attacks since the nineties. Sixteen policemen died in the strike. The government blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement that is fighting for an independent state of Xinjiang.