Security alert in Beijing

AT least four Western countries took the unusual step last Thursday of issuing Christmas security warnings to their citizens in a popular Beijing (北京) diplomatic and entertainment district as police stepped up patrols.

The Chinese capital is generally safe and criminals rarely target foreigners, although the fashionable Sanlitun (三里屯) bar and restaurant area occasionally sees fights. In August, a lone attacker stabbed a French man and a Chinese woman there. The woman died.

The US Embassy (美國大使館) said in a brief statement that it had “received information of possible threats” against Westerners in Sanlitun, also home to many embassies, on or around Christmas Day.

The French Embassy (法國大使館), Britain’s Foreign Office (英國外交部) and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs (澳洲外交) issued similar warnings. None of them gave further details.

Chinese Foreign Ministry (外交部) spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said he was aware of the reports and that the government paid great attention to foreigners’ safety.

Beijing police, in a statement on their official microblog, said they had issued a ‘yellow’ security alert for Christmas and New Year, the second lowest level, focused on areas like malls, which were likely to see more people visiting during the festivities.

“Beijing police are planning ahead and taking many measures ... to ensure good public order,” it said.

Christmas is not a holiday in officially atheistic China, but more and more young people celebrate it as they view it as a sophisticated Western custom and excuse to give gifts.

Police commandos with guns were seen in front of Sanlitun’s main mall. Regular police tend not to carry arms in China, and gun crime is in any case uncommon.


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