Chinese counter-terrorism forces perform an anti-terrorism drill in Beijing on May 29, 2014
Chinese counter-terrorism forces perform an anti-terrorism drill in Beijing on May 29, 2014
Nan Hao

BEIJING — Recent acts of violence in China have prompted the country to step up its anti-terrorism measures, leading the Beijing government, for example, to give police more authority to use force to stop a terror attack.

The capital’s public security bureau has given anti-terror units twice the normal amount of bullets, Beijing News reports. And officers are being allowed to shoot attackers on site, skipping previous protocols that required addressing perpetrators and firing warning shots.

But not everyone believes the war against terror should mean greater authority for law enforcement. Zhang Qianfan, a professor at Peking University Law School, says police and the military should have the power they need to stop terrorists, but that measures should be in place to prevent abuse.

"Terrorists are indeed dangerous, but uncontrolled public power is even more dangerous," he says.

China has been hit by a troubling number of terror attacks in recent months that the government blames on separatists from the western region of Xinjiang, which is home to the Uyghur ethnic group who are Muslim and speak Turkic.

In a May 1 attack at the main train station in the southwestern city of Kunming, police officers shot and killed four attackers who used knives to kill 29 people and injure 140 more. State media have characterized that attack as "China’s 9/11," referring of course to al-Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

But police don't need any extra powers to fight terrorism, and officers can handle attackers the same way they would other violence, Zhang says. One problem with creating exceptions that apply only to terrorism is that once special rules are established, any shooting could be justified.

The recent attacks prompted the ruling Communist Party to say it will be more forceful in fighting terrorism. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the 25-member Politburo, the party's second-highest decision-making body, decided that "China must make cracking down on violent terrorist activities its current focus of struggle so as to contain the spread of religious extremism and violent terrorist infiltration."

Efforts to improve responses to terror attacks are also apparently in motion. Police officers around the country are being given a three-month course in the use of firearms. Ordinary police in China usually do not carry guns when they appear in public.


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