A short walk from the National Stadium, near a busy coach station, there is a wire fence around a plot of land and a plain white sign with words in Mandarin and English that read: “Military Administrative District, No Admittance.”
It has become a tourist attraction of sorts, where both locals and foreigners gather to take shots of the guards standing to attention in front of a battery of missiles.
On a recent visit, it appeared the soldiers clad in military fatigues were controlling drones. They were fiddling with portable devices and looking heavenward, where a number of kites were also flying.
While the idea of rocket launchers in such a built-up area is unsettling, it would be inconceivable for an Olympics to take place without a military presence of some sort.
This is especially true after Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorism redefined what was possible in terms of creating destruction. Greek Secretary General of Information Panos Livadas underlined this point on a visit to Beijing last week.
He said the Athens Games were the first after Sept. 11 and security costs were six times greater than had been anticipated because of it. It has set a precedent for all other Olympics, he added.
“Ours was the first Olympics to deal with this problem and that was one reason why there were delays [with our preparations]. Thank God there wasn’t an attack, but you have to be ready,” he said.
The authorities in Beijing keep reminding us of this. Earlier this week the director of security for the Games, Ma Zhenchuan (馬振川), said the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was targeting Olympic venues.
“It’s not imaginary. We have been focusing on the ETIM and it has been labeled a terrorist group not only by our country, but also the international community,” Ma told China Central Television.
At the beginning of the month security forces uprooted five “terrorist groups” that were preparing to launch attacks, and said that 82 people had been detained.
Additionally, state media claimed, more than 40 Islamist training bases were smashed.
The security clampdown is becoming increasingly evident as we count down to the big day. There are three security rings around Beijing and police cars patrol the intersections of major roads.
There are 40 anti-terrorism units in the capital and 110,000 security guards have been mobilized to keep the streets safe. About 300,000 surveillance cameras have also been deployed to keep track of suspicious behavior, while neighborhood watch teams are on guard.
During the subway rush hour bags are X-rayed and examined for suspect items, despite the inevitable delays. At bus terminals in far-flung provinces packages are examined if they are headed for the capital. Packs of dogs sniff around for trouble at Beijing Airport’s brand new Terminal 3.
“Safety first” seems to be the approach, and though some critics are saying this is a cover to crack down on dissent and is taking the fun out of the Games, Beijing has international support.
Interpol and more than 80 countries are involved in anti-terrorism measures for the Games, in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee, said Liu Shaowu (劉紹武), director of security for the Beijing Organizing Committee, on Wednesday.
“The common enemy of [the] international community is terrorists … so we have to upgrade the security level,” Liu said at the press conference. “We want to have both safety and festivity.”