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China takes various steps ahead of G20 summit as national pride at stake

HANGZHOU -- The G20 summit will be held in this Chinese city in Zhejiang on Sept. 4 and 5 to discuss global economic issues. U.S. President Barak Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, among other leaders, will attend the summit meeting.

For China, the meeting will involve the dignity of President Xi Jinping, who will chair the annual event. Therefore, China is keen to lead the summit to success by taking various measures such as improving the manners of its citizens, reducing air pollution and containing terrorism.

A citizen in the city of Hangzhou saw an unfamiliar man roaming around a bus stop in mid-August. The Hangzhou citizen subsequently said about the man, "Although I thought he was wearing strange clothes, I didn't take account of it." On that evening, the citizen was reprimanded by the local public security authority through a local man of influence who said, "We told you to report immediately when you see Uighurs." It was apparently part of an unannounced exercise to find "suspicious individuals."

Hangzhou is known for its "West Lake," a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting tens of millions of tourists each year. Xi Jinping's government is taking security measures with its pride at stake ahead of the G20 summit. About 500,000 public security and military personnel from across the country are being mobilized. Armed personnel are assigned to airports, subway stations and elsewhere -- a scene that heightens tensions in the otherwise scenic tourist city.

The Chinse authorities are particularly nervous about the movements of the Uighur ethnic minority who has faith in Islam. In the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region where about 10 million Uighurs live, the Chinese central government's suppressive religious policy has drawn strong local resentment. Regarding a high-profile incident in which knife-wielding assailants killed or injured about 170 people at Kunming Railway Station in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan in March 2014, the Chinese government concluded that it was a terrorist act by pro-independence Uighur forces and moved ahead to tighten security.

As the Chinese government has banned reporting terrorist incidents under anti-terrorism legislation that took effect in January this year, there have been no reports of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere. But some Uighurs have joined an Islamic militant group in the Middle East, prompting the Chinese authorities to watch out for the inflow of terrorists. There are reports that the government offered local citizens financial rewards for information on terrorists.

The citizens' reactions are complex. A local citizen working for a company near the venue of the G20 summit said with a smile, "I am going to travel to the Yunnan province with my family during the period (of the G20 summit)." Because their company will be shut down temporarily, the company will subsidize part of its employees' trips as part of efforts to urge its employees to stay away from the city of Hangzhou. This is apparently part of the central government's policy aimed at making it easier to carry out security operations. Some restaurants and markets will also be shut down. According to a source close to a taxi company, some taxi drivers have been told to take days off during the G20 summit because plain-clothes police officials are to drive taxis to conduct security operations in the city.

One of the reasons why the Chinese authorities are going on full alert apparently has something to do with the fact that Xi Jinping used to serve in the top post of secretary in the local communist party chapter in Zhejiang province. Xi has been consolidating his grip on power by appointing his subordinates from during his stint in Zhejiang to key government and party posts. Such being the case, the paramount leader's "local town" must not be tarnished.

Meanwhile, the strict security arrangements are drawing resentment from local citizens. There have been cynical online postings such as one which said that the government is trying to kick out local citizens in order to offer hospitality to foreign guests. According to a local newspaper report, a public servant in a neighboring city who posted an online message critical of the government was dismissed for having spread "false information based on speculation."

However, the bare-knuckle preparations have also produced some good results. The Hangzhou Municipal Government enforced an ordinance to improve citizens' manners in March. Penalties have since been imposed on those who spit on the street, fail to abide by the rule of giving priority to pedestrians at crossings and talk loud on their phones in public spaces, among other conduct.

In China, there are many cases in which vehicles cut across in front of pedestrians even when the pedestrians are walking on a pedestrian crossing with a green light. But a person who runs a restaurant in the city said, "The number of cars that stop where they are supposed to stop has been increasing. I want people of the world to see the wonderful city of Hangzhou." The government will shut down cement, chemical fiber and other factories, which could contribute to air pollution, in Hangzhou and 10 other neighboring cities from Aug. 28. Thanks to those measures, people will likely be able to see blue skies with no choking smog as with the cases of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing in 2014.

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