By Cindy Sui
Aug 6, 2008, 12:02 GMT
Beijing - With a protest by Tibetan rights activist Wednesday, an attack against police officers in Xinjiang this week and a South Korean TV station managing to film a rehearsal of the secretive opening ceremony recently, the issue of security is proving to be a major headache for China, despite an unprecedented clampdown in the capital.
The protest Wednesday by two Britons who managed to scale two
light posts and unfurl banners calling for a free Tibet near the National Stadium is just the latest in a string of publicity nightmares for China's Olympic organizers and security officials.
On Monday, two ethnic minority Uighurs threw explosives at and stabbed a group of paramilitary police in the Muslim-populated Xinjiang city of Kashgar, killing 16 officers and injuring 16 others, according to officials.
Such incidents come despite the fact that China has taken what many analysts say are some of the toughest security measures ahead of the August 8-24 Olympic Games.
Beijing has driven away thousands of petitioners seeking government resolution to injustices, sent home beggars, shut down prostitution businesses and even stopped recyclers scavenging for recyclables around the city.
Chinese people, especially those from the countryside, with no business in the city, were advised not to come.
In moves seen by some as excessive, nightspots near venues have been ordered to suspend operation and even restaurants have been told not to put chairs and tables outside.
While it was hoping the Olympics would attract half a million tourists and other visitors, tourism has been put on the backburner as China adopted toughened visa rules which prevented foreign businessmen and others from entering China, with travel agencies and tour operators reporting noticeably lower bookings.
Still, the pro-Tibet protestors, and two Americans who accompanied them - all from the US-based Students for a Free Tibet - managed to enter China on tourist visas, alert foreign media and carry out their protest undetected, albeit at 0547 am local time near the stadium where the opening ceremony will be held Friday.
'I think it's like looking for a needle in the haystack. There are always loopholes,' said Sieh Kok Chi, honorary secretary for the Olympic Council of Malaysia, who will be attending the Games.
'There are two ways of security - identifying troublemakers and controlling everybody, which is an impossible job. So you have to take some risks, otherwise you're not going to have the games.'
The challenge the Beijing Olympics faces is less from overseas terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda, and more from people disgruntled about a host of long brewing domestic issues, analysts said.
Resentment against the Chinese government's policies is deep- seated among ethnic minority Uighurs in north-western Xinjiang region, Tibetans, Chinese people evicted to make way for redevelopment and people who suffered maltreatment or injustices by local authorities.
Tian Yixiang, a senior PLA commander and also a security chief for the Games was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency saying Monday that the main security worries for the Olympics were the pro-indepedence Uighur group East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), pro-Tibet independence forces and the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which China has banned as a cult.
China has said ETIM has been plotting to sabotage the Olympics by trying to blow up a domestic airliner, kidnap foreigners and cause explosions at Olympics venues, but Uighur and human rights groups said China was exaggerating the threat from a group whose existence is unclear.
So far the Falun Gong has not held any protests, but a group of people angry about evictions protested near the newly redeveloped Qianmen district in Beijing earlier this week, which police snuffed out quickly.
While China has been largely successful in getting most of its citizens to support the Olympics - which is seen by many as a source of national pride - those with complaints about China's human rights record are undeterred, analysts said.
'Those who are critical of China's human rights conditions and lack of human rights, etc, their perceptions have been reinforced,' said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong.
In the countdown to the games, China has been on edge. In a sign of how nervous officers tasked with ensuring security and a good image for China are, several Beijing police pushed a Hong Kong journalist to the ground, shoved him in the face and broke the camera of another cameraman while they were trying to film a chaotic scene of people scrambling to buy the last few Olympic event tickets late last month.
This week, two Japanese reporters trying to cover the attack in Xinjiang were taken to a hotel by paramilitary police where they were beaten and detained for two hours.
With two days to go before the Olympics are scheduled to open in Beijing, security remained tight in Beijing Wednesday.
During Wednesday's torch relay in Beijing, a security officer running alongside a torchbearer was shown on TV grabbing a police officer who strayed in the main path, throwing him aside. Ordinary people without special passes were not allowed to get close.
But the huge task of ensuring no security breaches depends largely on the people involved, and in China, they are not well-trained or well-informed.
Guards outside the Gloria Plaza Hotel, where journalists will be staying, were recently seen scanning visitors entering the hotel, but making no attempt to check their bags.
And a South Korean TV station managed to walk right into the stadium, or Bird's Nest, and film the rehearsal of the supposedly secretive opening ceremony. The journalists said they were able to walk right in. After the footage was aired, Beijing organizers said they were disappointed by the action, but did not punish the station.
China faces the challenge of balancing security concerns with being a good host, observers said.
'I think it's a case of you're damned if you don't do it and you're damned if you do,' Sieh said, adding that part of the problem was Beijing's huge population of 16 million people.
'Sydney had 2 to 3 million people, so the sheer size of the cities is different. China is a different situation all together.'