Philippe Grangereau, Liberation’s insightful envoy in China, recently published another fascinating dispatch from Beijing. On 24 September, underneath a striking photo of Chinese policemen in black training large German shepherds on a blocked-off street in Beijing, Grangereau lays out a somewhat stunning portrait of the capital city:
Philippe Grangereau, “Beijing: Forbidden City [Pékin, cité interdite: Le Parti a fait boucler la capitale en prévision d’éventuelles manifestations lors due 60e anniversaire de la République populaire],” Liberation, 24 September 2009.
[partial translation by Adam Cathcart]
In the week before the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic, the government has tightened its controls, making China suddenly much less welcoming. Tourists living in the center of the city have seen orders by municipal police to stay locked in their hotels for three days. “In order to avoid troubles [Afin de vous eviter des ennuis], we invite our guests not to exit the hotel from 30 September to 2 October, as this could spoil your trip. Thank you for your cooperation.” Thus reads a Chinese and English message put in thousands of hotel rooms.
Diplomats and foreign residence who live along Chang’an Dajie [The Avenue of Eternal Peace], along the route of the military parade, are forbidden to use their balconies on October 1. Three reporters from the Japanese Kyodo news agency who rented a room in Beijing Hotel (along Chang’an Dajie) in order to see the scene from their balcony were beaten on Vendredi by a group of police who forced their way into the room and threw two computers into the hallway, destroying them.
Zhou Yongkang, a member of the CCP Politburo, compares the struggle against elements who would disrupt the festival to a “popular war.” Not less than half a million police and volunteers have been mobilized to guard the grand mass patriotic march, a spectacle which will feature 200,000 soldiers, their tanks, helicopters, airplanes, missiles.
[Note: This is a great example of French-European-Western freakout! While Grangereau is normally a reliable source, his estimate here is off-base. Kristin Kwok’s article of the same day from South China Morning Post quotes statements from Gao Jianguo 高建国, spokesman for National Day Military Parade Joint Command says that 8,000 Chinese troops will take part in the parade; they will be followed by 200,000 people and 60 floats. We will see about the composition of those 200,000, but they’re unlikely to all be PLA.]
The Liberation article continues with discussion of bag-checks at Tiananmen, the sequestering of dissidents in their homes, their phones shut off. A recollection of the Falun Gong protests and self-immolations on Tiananmen in 2001, and the suspicion among authorities that Uighur separatists wish so sabotage the great patriotic festival at Tiananmen.
Grangereau then engages in the kind of intriguing sctuttlebutt that is the great value, the stock-in-trade, and yet the inherently doubtful news from the Beijing rumor mill: Why did the CCP not pass the baton formally to Xi Jinping (e.g., appoint him to Vice-chair of Central Military Commission) at the last Party Congress? According to Grangerau’s anonymous sources, the Party is charging Xi with controlling internal security and assuring that the major issues with the ethnic minorities are somewhat settled, and seeing that the October 1 Party goes off well, before formally passing the baton.
Having lived in Beijing for a few similar events – most recently, the leadup to the 2008 Olympics – I think it is important to note what a pain in the ass they are for Beijingers. While foreign media is going to emphasize all kinds of angles – Chinese military and economic might, the repression of dissidents, the issues with ethnic minorities – the impact of the parade on day-to-day life in Beijing is in some ways the most interesting story, because it points to the militarization of every day life, the intrusion of surveillance technologies, part of a larger plan by the Beijing government that goes way beyond the Olympics. The idea is to lock down Beijing when necessary, and always to get eyes on any potential protestor or social element unfriendly to the CCP. Communications technologies that were supposed to bring about democratization are being stymied, while surveillance technologies are being amped up in a counterstrike.
Locking it Down
Probably one of the most important stories about the leadup to October 1 was published in South China Morning Post on 8 September 2009 [Ai Guo, “Provinces to help secure Beijing”]. Here are a few highlights:
– Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, and Tianjin have pledged their resources to provide ‘total security’ for the anniversary
– above regions will “set up checkpoints on all roads leading to Beijing” and “launch pre-emptive campaigns to crack down on people perceived as posing security risks”
– vehicle checks on Beijing’s 4th and 5th ring roads
– ban on liquids in the subway
– more riot vans and armed personnel in the heart of the city
– modeled after the Olympic experience, more volunteers to carry out neighborhood watch work
– no shipping liquid items in or out of Beijing
– no negative news