As China’s top leaders prepared this week to unveil their economic agenda for the next decade in Beijing, the nation’s security minister was paying unannounced, after-dark visits to the city’s subway stations.
Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun donned “civilian clothes” and stopped in Tiananmen East subway station, surprising commuters and police officers alike on Nov. 4, his ministry said in a statement yesterday. Guo warned officers to be vigilant after an attack outside the Forbidden City and prevent other strikes ahead of the Nov. 9-12 Communist Party conclave.
“The Party’s third plenum is approaching, Beijing and surrounding regions must earnestly carry out our program ‘Beijing Security Moat,’ leaving no dead corners or blind areas,” Guo said, according to the statement.
Guo’s visit provided a twist to a country-wide effort to boost security and head off everything from fires to traffic accidents before the plenum, a gathering where leaders may chart economic policy for the next 10 years. Human rights groups reported dissidents’ movements were restricted, mimicking steps taken before past party gatherings.
The Oct. 28 attack, which the government has called a well-orchestrated act of terrorism, already intensified the spotlight on security in Beijing. During the incident, a sport-utility vehicle plowed into a crowd near Tiananmen Square in the city’s center and burst into flames, killing the three occupants and two bystanders.
Even as authorities step up security, the official Xinhua News Agency reported eight explosions near a Communist Party office in the northern city of Taiyuan. A preliminary probe indicates that the blasts, which killed one person and wounded eight, were caused by homemade bombs, Xinhua said.
“Stability-maintenance remains a number-one concern for the government,” Maya Wang, a researcher with the Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said by phone yesterday. “It has instituted a number of systems to screen out or prevent anybody with any sort of grievances from reaching Beijing, especially the Tiananmen area.”
Rail police in the central Chinese city of Xiangyang were mobilized to make sure explosives and criminal suspects aren’t allowed onto trains, according to a Nov. 4 report by China Economic Net. The moves are part of “concrete actions to celebrate the victory of the third plenary session,” the report said.
Highlighting the party’s desire to avoid even non-criminal incidents that might reflect poorly on it, traffic police in Changchun, in northeast China, met bus company executives in October to “create a good transportation environment for the party meeting” and avoid traffic accidents, the city’s traffic police office said on its official microblog account. In Shanxi province, firefighters were told to check for possible fires between Oct. 29 and Dec. 15 to ensure a “smooth party meeting,” the Shanxi Legal Daily reported Nov. 4.
Soldiers in green uniforms blocked the entrances at Beijing’s Jingxi Hotel, where plenums have been held in the past. Red Chinese characters on one of the hotel’s buildings read: “May the Chinese Communist Party live for 10,000 years.”
Police must eliminate security risks, Guo said during his tour of Beijing subway stations. He called the anti-terror situation “grim” and “complicated.”
Guo’s comments echoed a Xinhua story before China’s 18th National Congress in 2012 that then-Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang had inspected a “security moat” created to ensure that congress went smoothly.
Meng Jianzhu, the nation’s top security official, told Phoenix Television last week that the people in the SUV that crashed had links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Authorities have blamed the group for past violence in the western province of Xinjiang, which has experienced sporadic protests by ethnic Uighurs against Chinese rule.
“China’s investigation of the incident has come to an initial conclusion that this was an organized, premeditated and carefully planned violent act,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing yesterday.
Twenty-four Uighurs in the city of Turpan in Xinjiang have been arrested, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. A man who answered the phone at Turpan’s public security bureau yesterday said he couldn’t comment and declined to give his name.
This week, people who have come to Beijing to petition leaders have been stopped by police, Radio Free Asia reported on its Chinese-language website.
Hu Jia, a dissident in Beijing who was jailed for more than three years in 2008-2011 for inciting subversion, said by phone that security officers who continue to monitor his movements even after his release stopped him from leaving home on Oct. 30, two days after the Tiananmen blast and the day after the plenum dates were announced.
“They directly told me, ‘You can’t go out.’” Hu said yesterday. “Stability means that in this period, society become a big prison.”
— With assistance by Henry Sanderson