Few Visitors, Heavy Security As China Marks Tiananmen Square Anniversary

Few Visitors, Heavy Security As China Marks Tiananmen Square Anniversary

By Julie Makinen and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Stress kindness, value people, defend sincerity, worship justice, value harmony and seek an ideal world.

As the 25th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters passed quietly, if tensely, Wednesday, two large video screens in the center of Tiananmen Square silently flashed a series of Communist Party slogans. No one here was supposed to acknowledge anything was out of the ordinary, but reminders of the extraordinary events of June 4, 1989, were in plain sight.

Troops in fatigues and helmets rode in white open-air jeeps, slowly lapping the plaza. Inside parked air-conditioned buses, scores of uniformed police cooled off until their next shift at security checkpoints. At the northeast corner of the square, a 36-year-old man with a scruffy mustache and a purple shopping bag struck up a quiet conversation with a Los Angeles Times journalist.

“You’re a reporter, right? They didn’t let you in, did they?” he said, almost under his breath.

Asked why he had come to Tiananmen on this day, he launched into a tale about his impoverished parents and other struggles of his family, despite the nation’s economic boom in the last quarter-century.

“Simple. I’m here because Xi Jinping doesn’t want anyone here today,” he concluded, glancing around a bit cagily after mentioning the Chinese president.

But how many others shared his sentiments — or even his awareness of the anniversary — was unclear. The state-run media do not mention it; China’s armies of Internet censors prevent any discussion of it; even some messages including the number “25” were blocked from social networking sites such as Weibo on Wednesday.

One Tiananmen visitor, a 24-year-old communications student, when asked if he knew what happened on the site 25 years earlier, replied with apparent sincerity, “No, what? I really don’t know.”

Another student of about the same age said he was “too young to remember” anything from that time, although he gave the impression he knew what had transpired.
Tourists seemed to understand that they were supposed to avoid the area. By late afternoon, the square had only a few hundred tourists and a far larger security presence. Armed police in khaki marched in formation. Plainclothes officers in pink polo shirts rode folding bicycles, and uniformed police in blue cruised on Segways. Undercover cops sported T-shirts tight enough to show off their biceps.

In the square, the party line kept flashing as small tour groups strode past the Monument to the People’s Heroes, an obelisk at the center of the plaza, just south of the video screens.

“To realize the Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation means realizing national prosperity and power, national rejuvenation, and people’s happiness.”

At the southeast corner of the square, a queue of several hundred people wilted in the sun, inching forward toward a security checkpoint. A man hawking rainbow umbrella hats tried to make a sale to the sweaty crowds. An infant, naked except for a T-shirt, wailed as his grandmother tried to entertain him. A young man in line, spotting a Westerner, asked: “Are you a journalist? Don’t waste your time.”

The line crept along for more than an hour. Police scrutinized each visitor’s national ID, checking each card with an electronic, hand-held scanner. Old women were body-wanded with metal detectors. Backpacks were X-rayed.

A Times reporter and two visiting friends from the U.S. were turned away after officers examined their passports, using a walkie-talkie to radio a supervisor with their visa numbers.

“You know why,” said one officer. “Come back tomorrow.”

AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez

Malaysia Airliner Search Points Up China’s Technology Gap

Malaysia Airliner Search Points Up China’s Technology Gap

By Julie Makinen and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — In June 2012, China reveled in a major scientific achievement: The nation’s first manned deep-sea submersible, the Jiaolong, had dived more than 4.3 miles into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The feat, state-run media said, put China among the elite ranks of such deep-sea-faring countries as the U.S., France and Japan.

Equipped with sonar equipment and two mechanical arms that can lift as much as 220 pounds, the submersible is just the kind of vehicle that might prove useful in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which investigators now believe is resting 2.8 miles beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. Of the jet’s 239 passengers and crew members, 153 were Chinese.

But while China has launched itself into the search effort with gusto — it focused its satellites to search for debris, scrambled ships and dispatched airplanes — the effort has thrown an awkward light on the gap between the country’s high-tech aspirations and its limitations.

China hasn’t offered the Jiaolong and the Australia-based search team hasn’t asked, leaving the lead role to a U.S.-built robot sub, the Bluefin-21.

“We are frustrated that we have this great vehicle and it’s not being deployed on this important mission,” said Cui Weicheng, who helped design the Jiaolong and was aboard the vessel on several missions.

Then again, Cui acknowledged, Chinese officials might be worried about getting the submersible to the search area. Its mother ship, the Facing the Red Sun No. 9, built in 1978, has had engine problems and is unreliable.

“On its last mission, from June to September 2013, the mother ship broke down many times,” Cui said. “It needed many repairs…I think that’s why the Chinese government may be hesitating to send it.”

Forty days into the quest to locate the Boeing 777, it’s been American, Australian and British equipment and vessels that have turned up what investigators have called the most promising leads. Meanwhile, officials in other countries have chafed about China getting out over its skis, rushing to release technical findings that proved to be false leads.

“We cannot deny that the United States has much more advanced technology in this regard,” said Xu Guangyu, a retired military officer who is a consultant with the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association. “The U.S. satellite system is much better, as is their ability to analyze very complicated data. These are things that we have to learn from the United States.”

Last week, the state-run China Daily newspaper ran a rather frank front-page article headlined “Tech Gap Exposed in Search Mission; Experts Say More Development Needed in Nation’s Advanced Maritime Equipment.”

A few days earlier, China had grabbed headlines — and caught Australian search coordinators off guard — when state-run CCTV announced that China’s Haixun 01 search vessel might have picked up acoustic transmissions from the jet’s data recorders. It was the first report of any such “pings.”

But questions quickly arose when photos showed searchers using a commercially available $16,000 hand-held device, made in the United States, dangled over the side of the boat. An Australian navy ship, meanwhile, towed a deep-water pinger locater lent by the U.S. military.

Little more was said about the purported pings until this week, when Angus Houston, the retired Australian air chief marshal who has been coordinating the search efforts from Perth, said the Chinese data had been “analyzed and discounted as a credible transmission.” He said investigators were relying on four other detections made by the American pinger locater.

Though Houston tried to minimize the awkwardness of the Chinese disclosure, other governments have bluntly admonished Beijing.

Malaysia’s acting transportation minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, rebuked it for wasting time by posting satellite imagery purporting to show debris over the South China Sea, along the aircraft’s intended flight path. The photos, he said, had been released by “mistake.”

China ought to be familiar with such “nontraditional security” missions. In the last decade, its military has practiced similar operations during exercises with foreign militaries and governments, said Dennis Blasko, a former U.S. Army attache to China and author of “The Chinese Army Today.”

“This gives them a chance to implement that type of training in a real-world situation,” Blasko said.

But the search has exposed a lack of trust not only in China’s information, but in its intentions.

India, for instance, refused a request last month for China to send four warships to join the search around the Andaman Islands.

“China has been sniffing around Indian waters for a long time. Delhi was naturally suspicious of that request,” said C. Raja Mohan, an Indian academic who has written widely about Sino-Indian maritime rivalry.

In China, where the search has received wall-to-wall media attention, the public is eager to see the country make a breakthrough contribution. Asked about it Monday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China was “going full steam ahead with the search operation.”

As speculation ran high last week that China might dispatch the Jiaolong, named for a fabled sea dragon, authorities posted a statement on the submersible’s long-dormant Sina Weibo microblog account, apologizing for not keeping the account up to date. It explained that the team lacked the staffing to share fresh information.

Internet users met the message with disappointment and derision.

“To be honest, we don’t really care if you actually write posts on Weibo,” one commenter said. “We care about whether you can appear in the ocean southwest of Australia.”

Said another, “We need a dragon that can dive into the ocean, not a worm that can only bluff.”

AFP Photo/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement

Passenger On Missing Malaysia Jet With Stolen Passport Identified

Passenger On Missing Malaysia Jet With Stolen Passport Identified

By Barbara Demick and Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Malaysian authorities have identified one of the two men who used stolen passports to board the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, the nation’s inspector general of police told local media Monday, as international search teams continued to look — so far unsuccessfully — for wreckage from the jet.

“I can confirm that he is not a Malaysian, but cannot divulge which country he is from yet,” Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar told the Star, a major Malaysian newspaper. He added that the man is also not from Xinjiang, China — a northwestern province of the mainland home to minority Uighurs. Uighur separatists have been blamed for a knifing rampage in southwestern China this month that left 29 dead.

Meanwhile, a Taiwanese official said national security officials received an anonymous tip last week warning that terrorists were targeting Beijing’s international airport. But the official, Cai Desheng, chief of Taiwan’s national security bureau, told Taiwan’s official news agency that the call received last Tuesday was “not likely” to be linked to the mysterious disappearance four days later of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which was headed from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Nevertheless, the anonymous call was one of dozens of possible clues investigators are examining as they struggle to explain how the flight, carrying 239 people, simply vanished. As of Monday evening in Malaysia, investigators have found no confirmed wreckage of the airliner despite an intensive search by more than 40 ships and nearly three dozen aircraft off the southern coast of Vietnam.

Sightings of what appeared to be an airport door and a life raft were later found to be items unrelated to Flight 370, officials said. Malaysian authorities say they have ruled nothing out as a cause of the Boeing 777’s disappearance.

According to the report by Taiwan’s Central News Agency, a man speaking Chinese claimed to have information of planned attacks directed against Beijing’s airport and subway system by the East Turkestan Independence Movement, an Islamic-inspired group seeking independence for the Uighurs. The caller identified himself as a member of a French-based anti-terror network and said he had called Taiwan’s national airline because he couldn’t reach anybody in Beijing.

As a result, Cai said that Taiwan “stepped up security checks at airport, especially for flights destined to Beijing.” Security officials also notified their counterparts in Beijing.

Taiwan, which has been self-ruled since 1949, is considered a breakaway province by Beijing, but today enjoys close economic relations with the mainland.

Chinese authorities blamed Uighur separatists for the brutal knifing rampage March 1 at a train station in the city of Kunming in southwestern China. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Beijing authorities claimed to have foiled amateurish plots by Uighurs to hijack or blow up airplanes.

Shyb via Flickr