Games push China’s security towards global standards

August 10th, 2008 - 8:55 am ICT by IANS  

By Cindy Sui
Beijing, Aug 10 (DPA) The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics passed off without a hitch as Beijing mounted a massive security operation that some criticized as overkill. But a foreign security consultant to China said a legacy of the Games is that Beijing’s law enforcement system is now closer to international standards.

“Their concept of the processes of law enforcement’s engagement with the media has changed dramatically from seven years ago,” said Neil Fergus, chief executive of Australia-based Intelligent Risks.

“Seven years ago when we started working with them, they said not only would they arrest any protesters during the Games, but they would arrest the media,” Fergus said.

“We tried very hard to convince them that wouldn’t go over very well,” he said.

A few minor clashes have erupted between police and journalists. A Hong Kong journalist was pushed to the ground while trying to cover the last chance to buy Olympics tickets, and several journalists covering a protest by people angry over forced evictions were harassed by police.

But Fergus believes his firm, one of the few foreign companies hired to advise the Chinese government on holding the Games, has had an impact on the government’s concept of security.

In the run-up to the Games, Beijing authorities sent large delegations to the Athens Olympics in 2004 as well as other major sports events, including football’s 2006 World Cup in Germany and the Tour de France, to learn how foreign countries maintain a balance between ensuring security and holding an enjoyable event, he said.

Fergus was director of intelligence for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and is working with London on the 2012 Games.

Perhaps one of the most lasting legacies of the Olympics is improved technology, he said.

Seven years ago, Beijing police had no aviation capability, now they have helicopters, several of which were seen flying over the city in the days before the Games began with Friday’s lavish opening ceremony.

The city also lacked a modern traffic control and management centre.

Now it has a state-of-the-art traffic management system that allows police to monitor traffic flows throughout the city and change the sequencing of traffic lights depending on the traffic structure, so that if a foreign leader is in a motorcade, they can easily “green light” the way, Fergus said.

Of course, critics of China’s harsh clampdown for the Olympics would argue that the increased use of technologically advanced equipment only helps the Chinese government maintain its firm grip on the country, but Fergus said that was something his firm cannot control.

“Our job is to help cities put on a major event, not to suppress civilians and suppress democracy,” he said.

It is not clear, for example, whether the thousands of surveillance cameras installed at intersections and even in alleyways throughout the city in the past year are meant to monitor traffic or people.

For his efforts to explain the practical benefits of the new systems in place, Fergus has received death threats, including one after he made comments to the media that were construed as being sympathetic to China after the pro-Tibet protests earlier this year.

Fergus said the recent protests, including one this week by two pro-Tibet Britons who scaled light posts to unfurl banners near the National Stadium, or Bird’s Nest, and another on Tiananmen Square by anti-abortion activists, were not unexpected by China.

“The Olympics has become a magnet for every protest group in the world,” he said.

“They want to capture international media attention because there are so many reporters here, so you factor it into risk planning.”

What China is doing - sending petitioners out of the city, sweeping prostitution under the rug, and kicking out the vagrants - is also not surprising, Fergus said, although he added there were Chinese characteristics involved.

“Other (Olympic host) cities have tried to put their best face forward,” he said.

Chinese officials have said that one of the biggest threats to the Olympics is “terrorists” from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group China said is made up of ethnic minority Uighur Muslims who are trying to establish a separate state in China’s Xinjiang region.

But Fergus said: “They’re a threat to national security but there’s no evidence to indicate ETIM has any infrastructure in Beijing.”

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