Beijing has deployed an estimated 700,000 official and volunteer civilian security monitors to the streets of the capital to ensure stability before the biggest holiday of the year, following a fatal knife attack in a busy downtown shopping centre on the weekend.
Legions of civilians in red armbands known as “Capital Public Security Volunteers” as well as police officers and armed police would patrol densely populated areas such as public transport hubs and shopping districts in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year, Beijing Daily reported on its WeChat account late on Sunday night.
The monitors would keep watch on the streets and report any suspicious activity immediately to the authorities, it said.
The extraordinary measures were “to maintain social stability and build a peaceful and festive environment”, the report said, citing an official from Capital Comprehensive Administration Committee for Social Security, an office coordinating activities between the municipal government and police.
The volunteers were clearly visible in red coats on the street in major commercial areas in Xidan and Wangfujing on Monday morning. Many were elderly and most patrolled in pairs.
In Xidan, a business district just 2.5km from Tiananmen Square, several police cars and a number of security guards kept watch near the scene of a knife attack in which one woman was killed and a dozen people were wounded on Sunday.
Beijing police said the attack was carried out in a shopping centre by a 35-year-old man with personal grievance. The man was detained.
In response, authorities in the capital launched what it called “level one extraordinary measures” in six major districts and surrounding areas, with 200,000 people – mostly Communist Party cadres and full-time employees from neighbourhood communities as well as street officials – sent on “night patrols” from 9pm on Sunday.
“More police cars and officers are on the streets. It’s just like we were in a curfew,” one Weibo microblogger wrote. “As the Lunar New Year approaches, police and public servants seem to be busier after the attack in Xidan.”
However, the authorities also appeared to play down Sunday’s attack, offering no further details of the incident after the initial report.