THE MAGAZINE

Let the Games Begin--and End--Securely

By John Barham

The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to open at 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008. This is more than just a gimmick: eight is a lucky number in China. Even so, China’s government wants to leave as little to chance as possible. It wants the 2008 Olympics to be remembered not just as a sporting event, but as a celebration of China’s resurgence as a world power. This is why the government is spending lavishly on security to ensure a trouble-free event.

“China is determined that these games will be perfect. There can be no disruptions or trouble,” according to a Western security consultant who spoke with me when I was in Beijing earlier this year looking into the security planning for the Olympics. “There is tremendous ‘face’ at stake,” he said. “The Chinese want everyone to say these were the greatest Olympics ever. Anything less would be a humiliation.”

That means everything must run smoothly, without protests, disruptions, and certainly no terrorist outrages.

The government is drafting about 70,000 extra police and military personnel to cover Olympic sites, upgrading security at the Beijing airport and the city’s subway system, and tightening already strict controls on political activity.

China’s secretive security agencies have reached out to U.S., German, and Israeli agencies for advice on Olympic security.

Assessments in advance of the Olympics revealed lapses at some critical locations, such as the country’s airports. As a result, new measures have been implemented. For example, as Zhang Zhi, deputy director general of the Beijing airport police, told China Economic Review the government is now “setting up a security zone to prevent anyone from taking shots at aircraft as they take off and land. In addition, background checks are being conducted on all airport employees.”

The Olympics led to even more movement of security hardware and service vendors into China. The security market was already worth about $10 billion a year and growing 20 percent annually, but the Olympics have given companies a lucrative one-off opportunity. The government has spent around $6.5 billion on security for the Olympics, according to industry estimates. This money is being used to create one of the most elaborate and technologically advanced security and surveillance systems in the world.

But the Olympics also present a number of unexpected challenges as well, because China presents such a large number of unusual risks.

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