Friday, December 25, 2015

Thinking Again About Armed Police in Shanghai After a Warning for Westerners in Beijing

In Beijing there is something else for Westerners to be concerned about in addition to the usual pollution. Austin Ramzy described the situation in The New York Times:
Several foreign embassies in Beijing, including the American and British ones, warned on Thursday of possible threats against Westerners in a shopping district on or around Christmas Day, urging their citizens to “exercise heightened vigilance.” . . .

The police presence in Beijing was increased on Thursday, with armed officers stationed in front of a main shopping complex in Sanlitun, Taikoo Li Sanlitun, and other intersections in the area.
Fortunately, no attacks have been reported so far. Whether or not the increased police presence has made a difference, it has already left its mark and not gone unnoticed:

Some people were reminded of scenes elsewhere in China:

I too was reminded of scenes in China including similarly armed police. One was over three years ago in Xining, Qinghai. It too was at a popular shopping district. I hadn't noticed the police there on previous days, and it occurred on a sensitive date in China — June 4, the anniversary of the violent crackdown at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

The other scene occurred more recently over five months ago in Shanghai. One day as I walked down the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street I unexpectedly saw rifle-armed police.

armed police at the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street in Shanghai

Like Sanlitun, the street is a popular destination for foreigners, though perhaps more for tourists than those living in Shanghai. Seeing the police made me think of the immense police presence I had seen earlier in the year at the nearby Bund after the deadly New Year's Eve stampede. I didn't know if armed police had appeared at the pedestrian street on earlier days or during previous months when I was elsewhere in China. I wondered what led to the increased security and whether there was any knowledge about a specific threat.

After I dug up the above photo this evening, my attention was quickly drawn to another detail — one I don't think I considered much on that summer day and probably wouldn't now without knowing the details of the current warnings for Westerners in Beijing. I won't soon again forget the date of when I first saw rifle-armed police on a Shanghai street. It wasn't June 4 or Christmas. It wasn't even a day of particular note for most people in China. But it was a notable day for Americans. It was the 4th of July.

Now I wonder if that wasn't a coincidence.

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