Beijing mobilises 100,000-strong citizen army in the capital's latest anti-terror drive

Beijing authorities to pay 100,000 'agents' including newspaper vendors and street cobblers for tips about anything 'suspicious'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 4:15am

Beijing has mobilised a 100,000-strong citizen army to gather intelligence in the capital as the national anti-terrorism campaign gathers pace, according to local media.

Even newspaper vendors and street cobblers have been ordered to raise the alarm if they notice anything suspicious.

But the move has been attacked both by a military expert and on social media.

Critics hit out after the Beijing Youth Daily and Beijing News reported yesterday that community leaders and volunteers across the capital would collect anti-terror intelligence and report to the city's public security agency.

Each piece of valid information would net a citizen agent a reward of two yuan (HK$2.50), while those who report three pieces of intelligence a day would be offered 200 yuan a month, Beijing Youth Daily quoted the citizen intelligence team from Xicheng district as saying.

The mobilisation came as two police officers were killed during anti-terror raids in Xinjiang . One died on Wednesday in Aksu and the other on Thursday in Kashgar, sources confirmed.

Citizen volunteers on patrol are nothing new to the capital; 850,000 volunteers - mostly pensioners in their 60s and 70s - were already patrolling the capital with police, the Mirror newspaper reported. But the recent mass mobilisations have been the largest of their kind. Some 290,000 citizens joined police to patrol the streets during the 2008 Olympics, while 700,000 volunteers were mobilised during the annual parliamentary sessions in March.

The mobilisations are the latest in a series of anti-terror measures adopted by the capital after three deadly attacks on civilians rocked the western provinces of Yunnan and Xinjiang.

Internet users complained they were being watched, not protected. "Police and military are ruling the country. The city will be filled with secret agents," Beijing-based author Xia Yu wrote on Weibo.

Prominent writer Zhang Yihe posted, "It's a sea of people's war", a term that late leader Mao Zedong used during the second world war to describe his strategy against the Japanese.

Shanghai-based military commentator Zhao Chu wrote in his blog that the Beijing mobilisations were reminiscent of the Great Leap Forward half a century ago and showed ignorance of modern counterterrorism theories and effective emergency response plans.

"The country has long been mobilising ordinary citizens … The policies and anti-terror strategies adopted in the past have already been proved to be ineffective by the latest bombing. Without a thorough review of the policies, the high-profile anti-terror crackdown will do nothing but win the attackers some more time," Zhao said.

Beijing organised five anti-terror drills this month, the latest of which included more than 2,800 police and commandos from the elite Snow Leopard unit.

After introducing security scans at nine Beijing subway stations last Saturday, officials planned to expand the scheme to cover 15 bus routes that pass through the central district by the middle of June, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.

Other mainland cities have also stepped up anti-terror measures after the country announced its year-long battle against terrorism on Sunday.

The crackdown follows a string of attacks. Last week, attackers killed 39 people when they drove two off-road vehicles into crowds and threw explosives into a street market in Urumqi , the capital of Xinjiang. Earlier last month, a bomb and knife attack at the city's main train station left three people dead and 79 injured. Knife-wielding attackers killed 29 people in Kunming in March.

Additional reporting by Keith Zhai