South China Morning Post
Laura Zhou and Li Jing, South China Morning Post
Armed policemen of the Snow Leopard Commando Unit (C) stand guard near a police van at the Sanlitun area, a fashionable location for shopping and dining, in Beijing, China, December 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jason LeeThomson ReutersArmed policemen of the Snow Leopard Commando Unit stand guard near a police van at the Sanlitun area, a fashionable location for shopping and dining, in Beijing
At least five foreign embassies in Beijing have issued separate warnings of possible threats against Westerners around Christmas Day in Sanlitun, a popular shopping and bar area in Beijing.
The warnings came as Beijing Public Security Bureau issued a yellow security alert — the highest in a four-tier system — for large and medium-sized shopping malls and supermarkets, citing substantial influx of customers to such venues. The alert is due to last until the new year, Agence France-Presse reported.
Meanwhile, Beijing police beefed up security in the Sanlitun area on Wednesday afternoon, with Snow Leopard Commando Unit — a special unit under armed police tasked with counter-terrorism and riot control — deploying at least three police vehicles and a dozen police officers to patrol the shopping malls.
Police have also removed many rubbish bins in Taikoo Li shopping mall in Sanlitun, reported local newspaper Legal Evening News.
The unusual presence of police has attracted the attention of pedestrians who stopped to take photos.
Vivi Liu, a 31-year-old Beijing resident, said she has heard of the alert put out by the US embassy before going to Sanlitun to see a movie.
“As I understand, if the foreign embassies had issued warning, the Chinese police would step up security to ensure the safety of the public,” she said. “But I would not have come here if I had not purchased the movie tickets. The alert sounds really scary.”
A German expat living in Beijing, who only identified himself as Daniel, has heard of the alert, but said he would not change any of his plans for Christmas because of the warning.
Beijing China Policeman Police Snow Leopard Commando UnitREUTERS/Jason LeePedestrians walk by as armed policemen of the Snow Leopard Commando Unit (L) stand guard near a police van at the Sanlitun area, a fashionable location for shopping and dining, in Beijing, China, December 24, 2015.
“I am not saying they (the embassies) are overreacting, but if we avoid coming here, that’s what they want us to do, no matter whoever they are.”
Solana, another shopping mall about 4km away from Sanlitun, has cancelled some of the outdoor activities planned for Christmas Eve.
Some parents in Beijing also received alerts from school teachers, asking them to keep their children away from Sanlitun and Shichahai, a popular tourism destination in downtown area.
The US, British, French, Canadian and Australian embassies in Beijing have all issued warnings, saying it received information of possible threats against Westerners who visit Sanlitun, but they did not specify the nature of the threat.
A Shenzhen kindergarten has also sent a notice to parents, highlighting the “increased terrorism risks” in the city.
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Washington also issued an alert on Thursday, urging Chinese citizens in the United States to be cautious against security risks.