Global Economics

China: Bombings Add to Olympics Terrorism Fears


Beijing reacts quickly to claims by the Turkistan Islamic Party taking responsibility for recent attacks and threatening more during the Games

With less than two weeks to go before the Olympics open in Beijing, the Chinese government is facing the horrendous possibility of terrorist attacks aimed at the Games. On July 23 an apparent terrorist group released a video taking responsibility for bus bomb blasts a few days before in the southwestern city of Kunming that killed two people. The group also claimed as its own another attack in Shanghai that killed three people in May.

In the video, the group calling itself the Turkistan Islamic Party (BusinessWeek.com, 3/17/08), apparently a Uighur Muslim separatist organization pushing for independence for China's far western region of Xinjiang, threatened more attacks, including during the Beijing Games that run from Aug. 8-24. "Our aim is to target the most critical points related to the Olympics. We will try to attack Chinese central cities severely using the tactics that have never been employed," said Seyfullah, the purported commander of the group, according to a translation by the Washington (D.C.)-based terrorism analyst organization IntelCenter.

The government has reacted quickly with reports in the state-controlled press denying the blasts were Olympics-related. "So far, no evidence has been found to indicate the explosions were connected with terrorists and their attacks, or with the Beijing Olympics," a Yunnan public security official said on July 26, according to China's official news agency Xinhua. "The blast was indeed deliberate but had nothing to do with terrorist attacks," added a second official from Shanghai in the same report.

Missiles Defend Olympic Venues

That may be the official stance, but there is no denying that Beijing now views the security of the Games as its paramount concern. China's efforts—ranging from putting surface-to-air missiles around Olympic venues such as the Bird's Nest stadium and Water Cube aquatics center, to the planned closure of Beijing's international airport during the opening ceremony—are turning this year's Olympics into the most security-focused Games in history. "A safe Olympics is the premise for a first-class Games with Chinese characteristics. Safety is our top concern here," the state press reported Vice-President Xi Jinping saying while touring Olympic facilities on July 21.

To ensure security, Beijing already held a series of anti-terrorist drills in June aimed at dealing with possible bomb or chemical attacks, as well as attempts to kidnap athletes. Now the capital is preparing to deploy more than 100,000 police, army troops, and volunteers around the capital. Police checkpoints have been set up along major roads to check identity cards for those trying to enter Beijing. Armed police with bomb-sniffing dogs now patrol the city's railway and subway stations. An additional 2,000 security guards as well as 200 X-ray machines are in the capital's 93 subway stations to watch for guns, knives, and explosive or flammable liquids.

Meanwhile, Beijing has placed 300,000 surveillance cameras throughout the capital to monitor any suspicious activities. Access to all Olympics venues is being screened, with everything from standard metal detectors to technology for fingerprint and iris scanning. China will spend a record $6.5 billion on surveillance equipment. That compares with the $1.4 billion spent in Athens for the 2004 Games, according to the Alexandria (Va.)-based Security Industry Assn.

Closed Political System Has Greater Control

"All work related to Olympic security is in full swing and security personnel and equipment are all in place," said Liu Shaowu, director of security for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games Security Dept. on July 23. "Beijing is confident of dealing with any kind of security threat and will present the world a safe and peaceful Olympics."

Despite the recent attacks, security experts believe the Chinese government is well-positioned to thwart terrorist threats to the Games. "In a country such as China with a relatively closed political system, they probably are somewhat better prepared when it comes to security than in a more open country like the U.S.," notes Harvey Schiller, the CEO of New York-based risk management consultancy GlobalOptions Group. "I suspect they have some advantages in securing security," adds Schiller, who formerly served as the executive director and secretary general of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Roberts is BusinessWeek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief.

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