x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Gates and guards counter crime in south Beijing

Officials say influx of workers led to the move, which has halved the crime rate, but others argue it restricts rights and hurts businesses.

Barriers and security guards have been put in place at the entrances to Laosanyu village.
Barriers and security guards have been put in place at the entrances to Laosanyu village.

BEIJING // Gated communities are usually associated with large, detached houses, perfectly kept lawns and upmarket cars gleaming on the driveway. In the south of the Chinese capital, however, gated communities of a wholly different kind have recently been created, and they have none of the exclusive feel of their counterparts in the expensive parts of the suburbs.

A ring of barriers and 24-hour security guards have been introduced to crack down on crime in two villages that have seen their populations mushroom because of an influx of migrant workers. The methods adopted in Laosanyu and Shoubao are likely to spread to more than a dozen other villages in the township of Xihongmen, an area half an hour's drive from the city centre where village meets urban sprawl meets dusty countryside.

Everyone who stays in the villages has had to register with the local authorities and been issued with documents that allow them to enter. Guards often stop those trying to get through to check their passes - and they may refuse access to those who do not have the documents. Guo Ruifeng, head of the Laosanyu village committee, insisted the measures were not aimed at simply keeping out migrants from neighbouring villages.

Making people register was, Mr Guo said, "very good for the local residents as it keeps away those with criminal records". "The policy is not specifically against migrant workers, because there are local thugs who are not migrant workers," he said. "It's for population control. You cannot come here and live here freely; you have to get registration. "This area is a transitional area between the urban area and the rural area. People from all walks of life are living here, migrant workers some of them.

"It's hard to tell what they're doing here. It causes problems for society. Most of them are thefts and some of them are robbery." There were reports of multiple burglaries on single nights in the village, where monthly rents are as low as Dh110 (US$30). But since the guards have been restricting entry at the barricades, crime rates have halved, according to Mr Guo. There are 13 entry and exit points to the village, only two of which remain open after 11pm.

The restrictions were first tried during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mr Guo said, and were also temporarily used during China's 60th anniversary celebrations late last year, before being permanently introduced in mid-April. He insisted the new policy was "a spontaneous activity" by the villagers that, once proposed locally by the village committee which is dominated by registered Beijing residents rather than migrants, was then supported by the township.

Despite local reports that some businesses have suffered because people who worked in nearby factories were no longer able to enter to visit shops, Mr Guo insisted the streets remained busy. They were bustling with people during a recent visit. "There's no sign of any problems," he said. "So far we've not received any complaints from businessmen here." However, the policy has come under fire from those who believe it is discriminatory and could stifle development.

Yuan Congfa, the deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, told local media the policy would do "nothing but harm". "This move not only closes the door on migrants but also on future development," he said in an interview. At Shoubao, though, the policy has been "welcomed by local residents", according to Wang Junqing, a security guard at the main gate. "It was introduced to have a better control of the floating population and control mobs and the theft of cars," he said.

Setting up the project in Laosanyu cost the township authorities about 500,000 yuan (Dh269,000), with the village contributing about a quarter of this amount. There are 31 security guards, 16 of them patrolling the gates and a further 15 running the registration system. The village is home to 667 registered Beijing residents and between 6,700 and 6,800 migrants, whom Mr Guo said had also been able to register and retain the right to enter the village.

There are 14 other villages in the township yet to introduce a security scheme similar to those in place at Laosanyu and Shoubao, but Mr Guo predicted the others would follow suit. "It's good for the village," said Li Jian Guo, 36, who runs his own business in the village, where he has lived for more than three decades. "It gives us a sense of security living here. There are not many criminal acts round here."

Liu Hui, 35, who has a stall selling clothes, said the barriers gave a "sense of community life". "It makes a big difference," he said. @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae