Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 12:29 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 12:29 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Security in Beijing


Sam Roggeveen


6 August 2008 10:33

John Lee is a former intern with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. John is now studying in Beijing, and here he adds some sobering detail to the picture of modern Beijing painted by Alistair Thornton yesterday: 

One contradiction in China's treatment of the Olympics as its 'coming-out party' is the increased hassle for foreigners here. Most publicised has been the tightening visa situation, which has led to falling hotel occupancy rates in Beijing. Particularly hard-hit have been foreign students, who at some universities have been denied visa extensions en bloc.

In cities hosting Olympic events, many hotels and even internet cafes will no longer accept guests without a Chinese ID.  At night the police can be seen cycling between guesthouses checking for unregistered aliens. The penalty for failing to register one's domicile with the local public security bureau has been raised to 5000 yuan, and random inspections have increased. Stories abound of landlords refusing to sign or renew contracts with foreign tenants, often citing fear of attention from the authorities.

Some measures seem quite arbitrary. In Beijing, one English-language lifestyle magazine which published for years without the proper license has been suspended, while the city's most notorious expat bar has been closed for months, though similar venues remain open and prospering. Rumours swirl as to whether an alleged 2am curfew on entertainment venues will be enforced. Security appears with seeming randomness at locations frequented by foreigners, from additional guards in residential compounds to armed paramilitaries outside private language schools (most of which have ceased offering visa services for students). 

The extra nuisances specific to foreigners come on top of those brought by the security blanket that has been draped over Beijing. This extends to the municipality's overland crossings: buying a bus ticket for Beijing now requires one to present ID and surrender items ranging from pens to hairgel. Within the capital, baggage is now scanned at all subway stations and one central station has been closed completely. 

Commerce has suffered, ranging from exporters unable to get visas for quality inspectors, to restaurants forbidden to put out tables on the sidewalk. Among the most sharply felt policies is the ban on trucks lacking Beijing license plates, leading to a recent exemption for vehicles carrying farm produce to the capital. Ironically, one of the areas to suffer most has been sport, with university facilities closed and martial arts instructors required to cease advertising. 

The consensus is that things will return to normal after the Games. But the most frustrating aspect of the situation is that no one is able to say for sure.