At first sight, they are just cobblers, grocers, delivery men and garbage collectors, nothing special, but in China’s nascent people’s war on terror, these “men in the street” are on front line, part of what President Xi Jinping called a “wall of copper and iron”.
Beijinger Zhao Guoqiang has served his community as a public security volunteer for 14 years, mainly keeping an eye out for burglars, thieves and minor offenders. Lately he has been on the lookout for terrorists.
A people’s army to gather intelligence on terrorists is just one of the measures, along with heightened security in subways, rewards for information and armed police patrols, introduced after a series of attacks on civilians that killed dozens in Beijing, Yunnan and Xinjiang.
Liu Yanhua, a retired factory worker, is another recruit to the people’s army. He patrols his neighborhood, only ten minutes’ walk from Tian’anmen Square, and reports anything suspicious.
An attack near Tian’anmen Square last year shocked the country and the world. On Oct. 28, 2013, Hasan, Gheni and Reyim drove a jeep into crowds near the square, killing three people and injuring 39 others. The suspects died on the spot.
According to Liu, security situation is more complicated than 20 years ago because there is now a large unregistered floating population in Beijing.
“I question strangers whenever I meet them,” he said. His neighborhood of 3,500 has some 150 vigilantes, most of whom are retired elderly people. When patrolling the community, they wear red waistcoats and armbands.
Although they have been trained to deal with emergencies, Liu said they will not get directly involved in any situation, but only serve as the ears and eyes of the police.
If something bad does happen, Beijing has bought them insurance with cover of up to 400,000 yuan (65,000 U.S. dollars), according to Wang Jie, a neighborhood official. The insurance program covers more than 850,000 volunteers.
Mei Jianming, director of the counter-terrorism research center at the People’s Public Security University of China, believes the masses play an important role in fighting terrorism.
“The key to defeating terrorists lies in early warnings, which require the public to contribute intelligence.”
SECURITY SUPREME PRIORITY
Beijingers are no strangers to terrorism and have got used to various inconveniences of increased security. Each of the 276 subway stations in Beijing has security checks, with more than 8,000 security inspectors employed.
Li Wei, an anti-terror expert from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said terrorists have expanded their targets from traditional police stations and government facilities to public transportation, markets and other places that tend to be crowded.
Common people need to be aware that terrorists can easily blend in, looking no different from anyone else, said Li.
A year’s campaign against terrorism, with the far west Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as the major battleground, began after an attack in a market in the regional capital Urumqi on May 22. The attack killed 39 people and injured 94 others.
ANTI-TERRORISM TRAINING INCREASINGLY COMMON
Anti-terrorism has been a mainstay in volunteer training for major international events since the 2008 Olympics. About 1,300 volunteers were present at the China-ASEAN Expo from Sept. 16 to 19, trained to deal with a variety of terror situations.
Community volunteer Liu Yanhua and neighborhood official Wang Jie have volunteered for November’s APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing.
Police are engaged in eight weeks of inspections and precautionary work to guarantee security for the meeting. Measures include management of hazardous articles, anti-terror training and publicity, and grassroots lookouts to try to eliminate hidden dangers.
The police have introduced anti-terror drills in busy downtown areas without advance notice.
The authorities are also trying to tell the public what information is useful and how to defend themselves when an attack is imminent.
In July, the National Anti-Terrorism Leading Group Office released a counter-terrorism handbook, which urged citizens to be vigilant of strange sounds, smells and garbage, for these may be the signs of terrorism.
“We need both professional anti-terror forces and a people’s force to fight terrorism,” said Beijing police chief Fu Zhenghua.
In August, civilians in Hotan Prefecture in Xinjiang, assisted the police in surrounding suspected terrorists who had plotted to throw bombs into the crowd.
“If everybody joins together, I think we can stop all the terrorists,” said Liu Yanhua.