Airbnb pulls listings, drones banned as Beijing goes into lockdown for party congress

Security is tight in the capital and across the country to ensure the event goes off without a hitch

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 10:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 11:47pm

Drones have been banned in Beijing, cybersecurity measures have been stepped up, courier services have prohibited certain items and Airbnb has cancelled all city centre bookings for the rest of the month in the lead-up to next week’s Communist Party congress.

Security campaigns have also been launched across the country to ensure the five-yearly meeting – one of China’s most important political events – goes off without a hitch.

But security is especially tight in the capital, where about 2,300 delegates will congregate at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square when the congress begins on Wednesday.

Popular short-term rental sites, including Airbnb and its Chinese rivals, this week notified local hosts that bookings for the rest of October had been cancelled and they would not be able to take new ones for that period.

Beijing resident Tony, 40, who declined to give his full name, said he expected to make 30,000 yuan (US$4,500) less this month from his four rental flats, which will be mostly vacant.

“The government says it supports the sharing economy, but it is very sensitive about security when important events come up,” Tony said. “I don’t think the ban is necessary.”

The host said he was notified about the booking freeze by four home-sharing services he rents his properties through, including Airbnb.

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“Similar to action taken by other hospitality companies, Airbnb listings in certain areas in Beijing will be temporarily unavailable throughout October,” the US company said in a statement.

A search of Chinese short-term rental sites showed no properties were available in the city centre in October, but places in suburban Beijing could still be found.

A customer service representative at one of those sites, Mayi.com, said the company had been told by the authorities to block all listings in six districts for the rest of the month, because of the party congress. The company did not reply to a request for comment.

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Beijing’s city government has also banned the use of small aircraft such as drones, parachutes and hot-air balloons during the congress, news website Thepaper.cn reported.

That restriction will be in place from Tuesday until the day after the party congress concludes, the report said, citing a notice from Beijing police.

Beijing party secretary Cai Qi has called for a “120 per cent” effort to ensure security and stability during the congress, and for all safety threats to be eliminated.

Officials are inspecting supermarkets, mosques and internet cafes this week to make sure there are no fire hazards, according to the city government’s website.

University staff in Beijing have meanwhile been told to monitor their websites 24 hours a day and provide daily cybersecurity reports to the government from October 8 to 27.

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Nationwide, the Ministry of Public Security has called for all firefighters to be on alert until the party congress is over, while traffic police were asked to “do whatever it takes” to prevent major road accidents.

A Public Security Bureau in Shanghai even released a short video clip on Wednesday to motivate police officers to work hard for the congress, Thepaper.cn reported. It features a policeman who has to miss his daughter’s birthday party because he is on duty, the report said.

As well as the security tightening measures in Beijing itself, courier companies have since early this month refused to deliver certain items not only to the capital, but also to the port city of Tianjin and the neighbouring provinces of Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang.

The banned list includes all liquid, gel and powder products, drones, knives, toy guns and alarm clocks of the type that can be used in the manufacture of explosive devices.

Several cross-border online shopping delivery companies have also halted deliveries to the regions.

Additional reporting by Nectar Gan