This Watch Won't End

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Hennock and Melinda Liu

China's pre-Olympic crackdown on dissent is growing, laying the roots of a new security regime.

Beijing is cleaning house for the Summer Olympics. Last month security czar Ma Zhenchuan promised the extravaganza in August would provide "a sound and safe social environment." He kicked off a campaign to nab terrorists and murderers, wipe out prostitutes and porn, and even "strengthen controls over knives, bows and crossbows," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. With less than 200 days to go, security forces are on "combat footing," authorities say. They've huddled with Interpol, consulted Australian and Greek Olympic security experts, imported bomb-sniffing technology and sent 400 police abroad to learn how Western nations "conducted criminal investigations and dealt with group turbulence, with an aim of offering world-class security," says the Web site of the Olympic organizing committee.

China's police are no novices at stifling domestic dissent. What's new is the focus on international threats, including potential troublemakers among the foreigners who've flocked to Beijing in recent years. Declaring terrorism their biggest threat, Chinese officials have studied 37 Olympic incidents, from the Munich massacre (1972) to the U.S.-led boycott of Moscow's Games (1980) after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. During a recent Beijing visit, FBI head Robert Mueller declared himself "very much impressed" with China's pre-Games security drive.

Beijing's targets don't stop with Al Qaeda or other Islamic militants, including the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) in western China. Authorities are also keen to thwart foreign activists from launching high-profile protests in the glare of the Olympic spotlight. Already activists calling for media freedoms and Tibetan independence have managed to pull off Games-related demonstrations inside China. Critics of Beijing's ties to Khartoum and Rangoon have dubbed the games the "Genocide Olympics" and called for a boycott; they're likely to try to grab a piece of the August limelight, too. In response, Beijing has condemned any "politicization" of the Games and promised to deal harshly with illegal protests.

Of course, China didn't invent the pre-Olympic housecleaning. In 1988 Seoul officials cracked down on dog-meat restaurants, for example, to avoid offending pet-loving Western visitors. …