HONG KONG—Chinese authorities have clamped tight security curbs on the capital, Beijing, blocking off major tourist spots and taking precautions against possible unrest, ahead of a huge parade marking 60 years of Communist Party rule.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, along with some hotels, restaurants, and shops in the city center closed ahead of the celebrations on Thursday, Oct. 1, aimed at showcasing the rise of the world’s largest country from war-torn poverty to economic superpower.
On Chang An Avenue, the major boulevard that runs east-west through the city, all restaurants were closed, according to a foreign visitor who asked not to be named. “To get meals, you must go to a restaurant outside the Third Ring Road. It’s inconvenient.”
“The atmosphere is very tense. Glass [doors and windows] on houses near Tiananmen Square have been reinforced with tape to prevent cracking or shattering during the fireworks display, or in case of an explosion,” the visitor said.
Authorities have been stepping up security for weeks, notably in the wake of violent unrest since early last year among the country’s minority Tibetan and Uyghur populations, many of whom resent Chinese Communist Party rule.
The Chinese government is eager to celebrate its economic might and what it says are close ties with its 1.3 billion people.
But it also clearly fears unrest and dissent that threaten to undermine its authority—maintaining surveillance over dissidents, shutting down Web sites and discussion boards critical of the government, suspending foreign television broadcasts, and detaining “petitioners” who come to Beijing to lodge complaints about local authorities.
Armed SWAT police stood guard beside armored vehicles at many intersections along Chang An, while subway riders passed through metal detectors and had their bags scanned, witnesses said.
Sales of knives have been banned, kite-flying is prohibited, and residents of the diplomatic apartments that line the parade route have been told not open their windows or go out on their balconies to watch.
Beijing police advised residents to avoid travel within the city and to watch the televised performance at home.
Staying at home
“Since this afternoon we have not been able to go out,” one Beijing resident, surnamed Peng, said Wednesday. “We are staying home and doing chores around the house.”
Another Beijing resident who asked not to be identified said many residents had a reduced work schedule.
“We worked a half-day this morning and were let go in the afternoon. Some people didn’t even work a half-day. I visited the train station today—it was crawling with armed special police,” the resident said.
Festivities on Thursday were to include a “civilian parade” comprising about 100,000 people and 60 floats. Tens of thousands of doves, 5,000 balloon-toting children, and a chorus of thousands are to be part of the show, the official Xinhua news service said.
In the southwestern province of Guizhou, activist Chen Xi said authorities were keeping a close watch on dissidents.
“More than 20 local democracy activists are under surveillance around the clock. They are standing guard downstairs,” Chen said. “They’re treating ordinary citizens as if we were hostile elements.”
Quan Linzhi, another Guizhou activist, said, “I have been placed under house arrest the entire day by six or seven public security personnel.”
“Guizhou is so far away from Beijing. What could we possibly do? There will be a military parade on Oct. 1. We’re not interested in watching the telecast.”
Another Guizhou activist, Li Renke, said, “They’re too nervous … It’s as if they think they won’t be around for another 60 years. What will they do for the 65th or 70th anniversary? Put us behind iron fences?”
In Suizhou, in the central province of Hubei, a television service official said all foreign television channels would be suspended on National Day.
“Beginning yesterday, all overseas channels have been suspended until Oct. 8,” he said. “I don’t know if it applies to the whole country, but that’s the case here in Hubei. It’s the 60th anniversary of the founding of the nation. It’s to prevent troublemakers from sending illegal signals.”
Liu Feiyue, a rights activist in Suizhou, reported the same thing.
“We called the service hotline and were told that all overseas television broadcasts have been suspended,” Liu said, adding that Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV was blocked.
Speaking in Vancouver, the Tibetan exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, cited the security curbs as evidence of “tensions among the leadership, and also in the general public.”
“China must change, but the change should be slow and steady,” he said. “Reform should be initiated by the Communist Party themselves. If there are sudden changes, then that could cause chaos and hurt many people.”
The Dalai Lama is revered among Tibetans but reviled by the Chinese authorities, who regard him as a “splittist” aiming to break Tibet off from China. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959, maintains that he wants only greater autonomy for Tibetans and preservation of Tibetan culture.
President Hu Jintao is expected to deliver a keynote address on Thursday, followed by two parades. Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will oversee the evening fireworks display.
Xinhua said 18 planes were on standby to clear the air with cloud-seeding to induce early rain showers, if it is deemed necessary to prevent rainfall during Thursday's festivities.
Beijing fired off 1,100 silver iodide rockets to disperse rain on the eve of the Olympics opening ceremony last year.
Original reporting for RFA’s Mandarin Service by Qiao Long and Ding Xiao. Translated from the Mandarin by Mandarin service director Jennifer Chou. Additional translation from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee and additional reporting by news agencies. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.