Ahead of G20 meet, China tightens security

The govt is forcing residents to move out of buildings near the meeting site to diminish risk of protests

Ahead of G20 meet, China tightens security

As China prepares to host the Group of 20 economic summit meeting this weekend in Hangzhou, it is determined to show the world that it is an equal partner in one of the most exclusive clubs of wealthy nations.

The conference, in this striking lakeside city south of Shanghai, will be the most significant gathering of world leaders in China’s history, and President Xi Jinping has ordered stringent security to ensure it goes off without a hitch.

The government is using all the levers of its authoritarian system, forcing residents to move out of buildings near the meeting site to diminish the risk of protests or attacks and telling workers to take vacations to help clear the city and present a sanitised version of one of China’s most vibrant economic hubs.

It has gone so far as to banish cooks who are Uighurs, a Muslim minority that has been accused of fomenting terrorism, from working at one restaurant in the city.
Not for the first time, officials want to demonstrate to people at home and abroad that China, the world’s second-largest economy after the United States, deserves a bigger role in global governance.

The rotating presidency, now held by China, is the culmination of a long battle for acceptance at the top of the international system. Though China is a member of the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, the country’s leadership feels as if it has been treated too much like a Johnny-come-lately at global summit meetings.

The G20 appeals to China as a place to stake its influence because its members include some developing countries that Beijing enlists as friends, yet as a whole the group represents more than 80% of the world economy and a big portion of world trade.

“Hosting the G20 offers a significant opportunity for China to become a rule maker rather than a rule taker,” said Zhu Jiejin, an associate professor of international relations at Fudan University. “The G20 may not be a platform of bounding force, but at least it ensures we have equal say along with the developed countries.”

Yet China takes centre stage just as the popular mood in the West sours toward globalisation, the American presidential candidates retreat from free trade, and skepticism abounds about the ability of the G20 – more of a talk shop than an enforcer – to raise sluggish world growth.

On geopolitical questions, China is making sure that issues like its activities in the South China Sea and its overproduction of steel, rattling the US and Europe, are absent from the agenda.

“There will not be any policy miracles coming out of the summit,” said Tristram Sainsbury, project director of G20 studies at Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia.

That makes the show, itself, even more important. “For China, first and last it’s about the show, and to show they can organise a major international meeting,” said Matthew P Goodman, a G20 expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang, is one of the most prosperous centres in the country and serves as the base for the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Xi served as secretary of the Communist Party for Zhejiang in the mid-2000s. The party’s resilience under Xi – on display with giant flags showing the hammer and sickle at security checkpoints – is part of the meeting’s message.

One of Xi’s provincial successors, the party chief, Xia Baolong, said the meeting would “demonstrate the great achievement of China’s opening and reform and the immense superiority of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” the government’s description of its political and economic system.

No matter where global summit meetings are held, host cities invest in huge amounts of security to avert terrorist attacks and to dampen protests. In 2012, President Barack Obama moved a G-8 meeting from Chicago to Camp David, Maryland, because of the fear of large demonstrations.

In Hangzhou, thousands have been forced to move from luxury high-rise buildings near the conference centre, their apartments sealed with tape to prevent a sniper from venturing inside.

Government and private sector workers have been granted vacations, and migrant workers have been told to return to their home provinces. In an effort to guarantee blue skies, factories within a wide perimeter around the city have been closed.

Yet some of the security measures here seem picayune. Two weeks before the meeting, the kitchen division of the Metro Centre department store was devoid of knives. They had been ban-ned for sale since June, a saleswoman said. At a Starbucks in the centre of the city, the food coun-ter was empty. Delivery trucks had been unable to crack the security cordon, the barista said.

On Uighur alert

A major focus of security has been the Uighurs. At the Beijing restaurant, with wall murals of China’s western deserts and a halal menu, 10 Uighur cooks were sent home in June at the request of the government, said the manager, Cai Ziwei.

Only afterward was the establishment placed on a list of restaurants recommended for Muslim delegates to the meeting, he said. Hotels were told two months ago that they must inform the police if a Uighur tried to register, a worker at the Hanting hotel chain said.

In June, police officers in the migrant neighbourhood of Qibao, 15 miles from the city centre, ordered all the grocery shops, clothing outlets and street-side restaurants closed, said Wang Jinfu, a municipal government worker.

In some instances, small businesses were asked to close on the grounds that if they stayed open and an accident occurred, local party officials would be penalised.

“They told us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and if anything happens while Obama is here, the officials could be sacked, so they said, ‘Please close,’ ” said Li Yindeng, the owner of Chenyang, a noodle shop. “There’s nothing we can do, and the government doesn’t pay compensation.”

One party official was detained for 10 days in July for complaining online about the high costs of the preparations. The state-run Global Times reported that the official, Guo Enping, was held because his article – “Hangzhou, Shame on You” – drew such wide readership.

As the rules began to disrupt daily life, more people vented online, and calls to the city’s hotline mounted. “Every day our media attacks the vicious foreign powers, and now they come, we have to kneel and serve,” one person wrote.

For a public that regularly faces problems of contaminated food, there was dismay when the leader of the state authority for grain, Ren Zhengxiao, said he would not allow “one single grain of unsafe rice or one drop of unsafe oil” to enter the kitchens preparing the leaders’ banquet meal.

The government urged everyone to get with the programme. “People must not express their discontent with unreasonable actions or even deny the importance of the security work of the G20 summit,” the state-run Zhejiang Daily wrote.

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