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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

It's party time in Beijing - and only some are invited

September 15, 2009 - September 14, 2009

By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Producer

BEIJING - After a short summer break, I returned to Beijing to find the city
under siege.

At least that's how it looks these days - two weeks before the National
Holiday on Oct. 1 to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the
People's Republic of China.

As I rode through central Beijing over the weekend, an armored vehicle was
poised on the corner of the Dongsishitiao roundabout. A soldier was sitting
on top of it, wearing a balaclava and with a machine gun at the ready.
Pedestrians stopped, stared, and then took photos with their cell phones.

Police checkpoints now ring Beijing's outskirts, monitoring traffic from the
surrounding provinces and inspecting vehicles entering the capital. Busloads
of troops have been unloading around the city. And jets screamed across a
beautifully clear sky over Tiananmen Square on Saturday morning.

The square itself, the Forbidden City opposite it, and the major road
arteries flowing south of Chang'an Avenue - which bisects the capital - were
all closed to the public this past weekend.

What sounded like half-hearted fireworks sputtered through the late evening
near the Workers' Stadium, but with the high visibility of soldiers and
police, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was gunfire.

A party for the Party In short, authorities here are taking no chances.

After all, it's a big anniversary. It's especially significant because in
Chinese culture sixtieth anniversaries are a big milestone - their
significance is equivalent to that of a centennial elsewhere.

But anyone under the impression the celebration is for the people might want
to think again. This is a party for the party - the Chinese Communist Party.

For one, the general public won't be allowed anywhere near the big event - a
massive parade showcasing China's military might, the likes of which are not
seen around the world these days (except for North Korea). While attendance
will be seriously restricted, the highly choreographed event will of course
be broadcast on China's state TV.

Chinese soldiers are drilled on Sept. 10 in preparation for a military
parade planned for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's
Republic on Oct. 1.

I tried to get an impression of the event to come. Cycling past the
Forbidden City on Saturday afternoon, I could see reviewing stands,
presumably for the leadership, outside the Gate of Heavenly Peace (the front
entrance of the Imperial City where Mao Zedong's iconic portrait hangs).

Meanwhile, a huge video monitor loomed across the street, and crowds of
people dressed in uniform walked in and out of Tiananmen Square. Traffic
barriers lined Chang'An Avenue. Security checkpoints have sprung up on
strategic corners. Police waved me away from the south side of the street;
they waved me away from stopping on my bicycle; and waved at me to stop
taking photographs.

Even more forbiddingly, residents are being restricted in their very own

At diplomatic compounds overlooking the road that becomes Chang'An Avenue,
property management offices have sent out fliers asking residents not to
invite friends into the area between Sept. 30 and midnight on Oct. 1; not to
open windows or balcony doors facing Chang'An during the same period; and
not to stand on the balcony to watch the ceremony on Oct. 1.

And for several weekends running now, residents have found themselves
trapped in certain parts of the city, unable to cross town because of
roadblocks. Several friends told me stories about being stranded overnight
one weekend when they couldn't get across Chang'An Avenue to get home.

Which makes it all the more ironic that one of the 50 Party-approved slogans
marking the 60th anniversary says: "Put people first, realize, safeguard and
develop the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the

The new normal?
It might seem a stretch, but it's hard not to wonder how much all of this
might become "situation normal." Before last summer's Olympics, authorities
put into place several security measures that have endured long after the
games have ended. Some of them were for the "safety" of Beijing residents,
but many of them came into being soon after the March 2008 unrest in Tibet.

Bags are still being x-rayed at subway entrances. Tiananmen Square is still
fenced off and visitors must walk through a metal detector and a bag search
before entering the area. Police still conduct random ID checks at people's
homes. And after years of laxness, the guards in diplomatic compounds, like
the one that houses the NBC News bureau, are still persnickety about
checking Chinese ID cards.

Not to mention the general crackdown on dissent. Although a prominent
activist lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, was recently released on bail, critics of a
wide-ranging number of issues have been rounded up during the past year. And
YouTube, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and
Chinese-language blog sites like all remain shuttered.

All a far cry from 18 months or so ago when optimists crowed that the
Beijing 2008 Olympics would usher in a new era of openness in China and
argued that the tightening political climate was temporary - just a blip, as
it were, that would ensure a smooth Summer Games.

Others have observed that 2009 is full of difficult, troubling
anniversaries - March 14 (the one year anniversary of the Tibet unrest),
June 4 (the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown), and
October 1 (the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic) -
and that government officials are trying to minimize the potential for
unrest or open dissent.

But what if this isn't a blip? What if this is the new normal?

I'm flying off to Afghanistan for a month-long assignment. We'll see if the
barricades are gone by the time I return.
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