China's Security Forces Prepare for Olympics
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - China's military and the People's Armed Police (PAP) are preparing for the Aug. 8-24 Olympics with surface-to-air missile batteries and are showing off Snow Leopard Commando units.
Beijing has based an unknown number of Hongqi 7 (Red Flag) short-range air defense missiles around Olympic venues. The HQ-7 system is deployed on both ships and ground-based vehicles. The decision seems extreme even for what many describe as a police state, but Patriot air defense batteries were deployed to protect the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Beijing has also announced the deployment of 100,000 police, special units and regular Army units to safeguard the games. Authorities have displayed the Snow Leopard Commando Unit (SLCU), a PAP unit responsible for anti-terrorism and hostage rescue.
"A main reason for all the reporting on these forces and other security preparations [on TV and in print] is to demonstrate the skills of these troops and their readiness in order to deter any terrorists who may seek to disrupt the Olympics," said Dennis Blasko, author of "The Chinese Army Today."
"Whether these groups can be deterred is another question ... but, so far, everything I have seen about these forces would be considered prudent, professional, in fact essential, preparation for an international event of the magnitude of the Olympics," Blasko said.
The Snow Leopards, known as the Snow Wolf Commando Unit until 2007, participated last year in the joint Sino-Russian "Peace Mission" counterterrorism exercise, under the umbrella of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
There are questions on how effective the Snow Leopards would be in a real scenario. Many of China's special forces have been used against "terrorists" or "separatists" in the eastern regions of China, including Tibet, but there is little data on how competently these units perform.
"That is the true measure of their effectiveness - how they do in a real-world situation," said Blasko, who was a U.S. Army attaché in China in the 1990s. "We may have the opportunity to see them in action in August and September, but hopefully their skills won't be necessary."
There are concerns that Chinese security forces could react too violently to peaceful protests at the Olympics.
The Falun Gong religious sect, founded in 1992 in China and banned by the Chinese government in 1999, has more than 100,000 members worldwide. Though the organization has not announced any plans for protests in China during the Olympics, the sect has successfully penetrated Chinese security measures in the past.