By: Our Correspondent

china-olympicIt may be a sporting event but Beijing
is on war footing with an estimated 100,000 soldiers, police and
anti-terrorist commandos mobilized to guarantee the safety of next
month’s Summer Olympics. The People’s Liberation Army has
also deployed a battery of surface-to-air Hongqi missiles to guard
against attacks from the sky. Despite the preparations, however, two
recent incidents have exposed glaring chinks in this massive security
effort: the inferior quality of the country’s law-enforcement
officers and the abysmally low regard in which they are held by many
Chinese citizens.

On June 28, more than 20,000 rural
residents in Weng’an County, Guizhou Province surrounded the
local Public Security Bureau, attacking officers and setting fire to
police vehicles. The riot was caused by police mishandling of the
death of 17-year-old high-school girl Li Shufen, who was thought by
her parents, relatives and friends to have been raped and then dumped
into a river. Local police, however, let the prime suspect –
believed to be a well-connected hoodlum – go free, all the
while insisting that Li had simply drowned. Relatives put the body in
cold storage and refused to let police take it away for cremation.

The day after the riots, Guizhou Party
Secretary Shi Zongyuan claimed that the disturbances were “instigated
by a minority of elements with ulterior motives who want to challenge
our party and government.” Shi claimed that underground “triad
organizations” were involved. Instead of satisfying the demands
of Li’s parents and deepening their investigation, authorities
in this poor, southwestern province concentrated on chasing after the
“instigators” of the unrest and more than 200 people were

Guizhou authorities, however, also
acknowledged that Weng’an cadres had failed to do a good job of
“putting people first,” which is President Hu Jintao’s
well-known mantra. On July 3, County party secretary Wang Qin was
fired for “lack of sincerity and failing to adopt a
self-critical attitude” in the course of negotiations with the
angry villagers. Also sacked were the director and the political
commissar of the Weng’an Public Security Bureau. Guizhou party
boss Shi blamed local cadres for failing to use “persuasive
methods” to handle the public’s dissatisfaction with
police and other officials. However, neither Shi nor Beijing
officials have indicated any willingness to reopen the Li case or to
discipline officers who handled the alleged incident.

Then came an equally disturbing
incident in which six Shanghai policemen were killed by an unemployed
Beijing youth who apparently bore a grudge against public security
officials in the city. On July 1, Yang Jia walked into the Zhabei
District Police Station in Shanghai and proceeded to stab 11 officers
with a knife. Yang later confessed that he hated Shanghai policemen
because he had been wrongly accused of stealing bicycles while
touring the city last October. Neither the Shanghai Party Secretary,
Politburo member Yu Zhengsheng, nor the Ministry of Public Security,
has adequately explained why police in the multi-story Zhabei Station
were so defenseless against a single person armed with an ordinary

Moreover, since Shanghai was supposedly
on the hit list of “quasi-terrorist groups” from Xinjiang
in western China, security in the metropolis had been strengthened in
recent months. Last weekend, Yu told the national media that Shanghai
police “were totally able to do their jobs well.” After
the knifing incident, however, security in more than 3,000 public
buildings in Shanghai was beefed up.

The Guizhou and Shanghai incidents pose
serious questions about the fitness of China’s labyrinthine
security apparatus. This is perhaps why both the Politburo Standing
Committee member in charge of public security, Zhou Yongkang, and
President Hu gave instructions concerning the Guizhou incident. The
two also heard detailed briefings about the Guizhou and Shanghai
cases. Beijing sources close to the security establishment say that
the Hu leadership is afraid that “anti-Chinese” elements
including ethnic separatists might use “guerrilla tactics”
to stir up trouble or otherwise cause CCP authorities to lose face
when the world’s gaze is upon China during the August games.
Sources say these so-called “saboteurs and troublemakers”
might see that security in Beijing is too tight and then strike in
coastal cities such as Shanghai, Tianjin or Qingdao, where aquatic
events are being held. Alternately, “enemy elements” may
engineer a repeat of the Guizhou incident, which mushroomed into a
national crisis largely due to the decades-long history of local
cadres and policemen bullying and taking advantage of the poor

The CCP authorities may find out —
too late — that without the people’s backing, even crack,
well-equipped police units can lose much of their effectiveness at a
time of crisis.