The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games will be the biggest sporting event, ever, to be held in China. With security preparations already well under way, the government is making sure that there is no room for embarrassment.
Dr. Mei Jianming, an anti-terrorism expert with Chinese People's Public Security University said, "Security at the Olympics might be challenged by a spectrum of criminal plots, ranging from minor acts of disturbance to sophisticated acts of mass-terror."
Grandpas and grandmas wearing red armbands will scrutinize local communities in the ancient city, helicopters will carry out aerial patrols, dogs will join in fire-fighting and, in a more unorthodox approach to security, white mice will serve as food-tasters to prevent athletes from being poisoned.
Behind the scenes, more sophisticated security preparations are underway, involving the training of professional security staff and the implementation of hi-tech security apparatus and integrated networking.
Beijing plans to chip in US $300 million for Olympic security, about one-fifth of the total investment. Almost 100,000 security personnel will be deployed for the duration of the Games, including 40,000 police and 27,000 armed police, along with thousands of security workers and volunteers. "The financial input is expected to be much less than that of the Athens Olympics, because the location of landlocked Beijing is less complicated than the previous host city," said Mei.
As Mei pointed out, such a high-profile event and the gathering of tens of thousands of people from all over the world, naturally raises security concerns. Olympic anti-terrorist operations have been continually pumped up ever since the 1972 Munich Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes and trainers were murdered in cold blood.
After 9/11, anti-terrorist operations have intensified. The 2004 Athens Olympics spent a record US $1.5 billion on security, almost five times more than that spent at the Sydney Games in 2000. Lu Shimin, deputy chief of the Beijing Public Security Bureau (BPSB) commented that, when bidding to host the Olympics in 2001, Beijing had made a preliminary risk analysis including the assessment of potential fire hazards, illegal invasion into Olympic buildings, urban turmoil, common crimes, technological problems, traffic safety, natural disasters and terrorist activities.
Many security measures have been considered and publicized, though the more covert operations have been kept officially off the record. An anti-terror drill was staged in Qingdao, the venue for sailing events at the Olympics, as part of Beijing's security preparations for the Games. No specific details about the maneuver have been publicized. It is, however, believed that it was launched against the backdrop of a hypothetical biochemical terror attack on the city.
Beijing established a security team for the 2008 Olympics in December 2004, marking the commencement of its security preparations. In June last year, as a major aspect of its preparations for the Games, the city set up a security headquarters and intelligence centre.
The security centre will be the backbone of a wide-ranging police network for the Games. Thousands of closed-circuit television cameras will be scattered throughout the city and event areas. Beijing will host more than 20 sports events in 2007, with mock security exercises taking place and police officers being stationed at over 100 Olympic venues in preparation for the Games.
A comprehensive training project to improve the police's response to emergencies has been underway since April 2006 and is expected to last until the Games are held in 2008. In order to further boost security measures for the Games, helicopters will patrol the skies of Beijing, with the city's first 'copter patrol' taking off soon. Temporary fire stations will be built near stadia and gymnasiums as part of the city's fire safety plan. A dog fire-rescue team, the first of its kind in Beijing, was also set up in late 2006 to locate people in the event of building collapse.
High-level meetings have also provided the city with the opportunity to test its new security measures. The Sino-African Summit held in November 2006, receiving leaders of 48 African nations, was widely taken as a rehearsal for Olympic security. Along with the Summit, the China Open tennis tournament and the Chinese Football Super League, have both provided opportunities to 'test the water' with new security initiatives.
The organizing committee for the Beijing Games has been looking at lessons learned from previous Olympics. Beijing held an international security conference in November 2006, where anti-terrorism experts from seven nations convened to discuss security measures for 2008.
"International cooperation is the key to Olympic security," said Li Wei, director of the Counter-terrorism Studies Centre, "every country is concerned about their athletes' safety. An effective system will be promoted to facilitate international cooperation. Some countries have rich experiences in dealing with terrorism."
For Beijing locals, safety is beyond their worries. They are more concerned about the troubles brought on by the security measures. Sun Zhaoxia, 45, who works at a state-owned enterprise, pointed out: "Traffic controls are common during large events in Beijing. More police patrol the streets and there are more restrictions on entering certain places."
However, according to most experts, the public has no reason to worry about safety and security during the Games. Whilst pointing out that China is not a direct target of international terrorism, Li also stressed, "Nowhere can be 100 per cent safe, especially as terrorism is now a global issue and the Olympics will offer a tempting opportunity for groups such as Al-Qaeda to spread terror."
Li warned that individual disturbances are also possible, as the rich-poor divide is widening in China. "Some individuals may take extreme actions such as poisoning food and planting bombs, in order to avenge society."
The public is expected to assist in counter-terrorism operations during the Olympics by keeping an eye out for possible signs of disturbance and reporting any suspicious activities or individuals to the police.