China believes terrorism is the biggest threat facing next year’s Olympic Games and has called for closer international cooperation to prevent possible attacks, state media said Tuesday.
“Although the general security situation for the Beijing Olympics remains stable, we still face the challenges of terrorism, separatism and extremism,” Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang was quoted by the China Daily newspaper as saying.
“Terrorism in particular poses the biggest threat,” Zhou told a security conference in Beijing on Monday, the paper said.
Zhou proposed more information sharing between international security forces and the establishment of an early risk warning mechanism, the paper said, without giving details.
Zhou’s remarks appeared on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States — an event that helped dilute U.S. and other foreign criticism of China’s heavy-handed tactics toward ethnic separatists it accuses of terrorism.
Experts say the terrorist threat to the Olympics is relatively low, but warn that Beijing faces a growing long-term threat from Islamic separatists among the Uighur population in western China’s Xinjiang region.
However, only one or two terrorist groups are capable of carrying out attacks in northeast Asia, and their ability to operate within China’s tightly controlled society is very limited, said Singapore-based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, author of the book “Inside al-Qaida — Global Network of Terror.”
“The threat (to the Beijing Olympics) is medium to low. The threat from the outside is very low,” Gunaratna said.
However, Gunaratna warned Beijing’s counterterrorism capabilities remain relatively weak, especially in its understanding of groups based outside its borders. “I expect they’ll improve a lot before the Olympics,” he said.
China has not joined in military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, and has not so far been a target of al-Qaida or other Islamic terror groups.
It recently appointed a special envoy to focus on conflicts in the Middle East, but Beijing’s involvement in the region has mainly been limited to economic contacts and calls for a negotiated settlement to the Palestinian question.
Although Uighur separatists have launched occasional bombings and assassinations, the last serious incidents were a decade ago.
In a rare publicized action, China said it raided a terror camp in Xinjiang run by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, killing 18 militants it says had links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Interpol said Monday it would help China with its security efforts by sending a team to the Games that will have quick access to the agency’s files on fingerprints, images and “wanted persons notices.”
Before the Games, Interpol will provide “threat assessments” on issues relating to Olympic security and international crime, it said in a statement.
Liu Jing, a vice minister for public security, told the security meeting in Beijing that China hopes all the 135 cities on the Olympic torch relay route will also help safeguard that event, the paper said.
Liu was quoted as saying that some organizations and individuals were trying to politicize the Games and planned to disrupt the torch relay.
Mia Farrow, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, has labeled the Beijing Games the “genocide Olympics,” and has launched her own Olympic-style torch relay through countries with histories of mass atrocities.
The Hollywood actress says China has impeded a solution to deadly ethnic conflicts in Sudan’s Darfur region because of its oil interests in that country.