British, U.S., and French Embassies in China issued a warning Thursday morning about a Christmastime terrorism threat against Westerners in Beijing's Sanlitun district. The Sanlitun neighborhood is a shopping district especially popular among Westerners, and in its statement Thursday, the U.S. Embassy urged U.S. citizens in the area to exercise "heightened vigilance."
The Sanlitun district is home to China's first Apple Store, numerous bars and restaurants, and an open-air mall boasting high-end brands, and is also known for its popular nightlife among both locals and foreigners. The neighborhood has, however, also seen some violence. In August, a Chinese woman was killed when a sword-wielding man attacked her and her French husband as they were walking around the area; subsequent reports by Chinese media indicated that the man yelled that he "hated Americans" before attacking. As a result, Chinese authorities are taking this Christmastime threat seriously and are working to ensure public safety. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a news conference that Chinese authorities are familiar with reports of the August attack and that the government "spares no effort in protecting the security of Chinese citizens and foreign personnel in China."
In light of last year's New Year's stampede in Shanghai, which killed 36 people, Chinese authorities are "anxious about crowd control," according to ABC News. However, they have already taken steps to protect the safety of those in Beijing. By Thursday afternoon, Beijing police had issued a medium-level security alert — also known as a yellow security alert, the lowest on a three-tier system — and heavily-armed police patrols began operating around the capital.
None of the embassies have given any further detail about the nature or origins of the threat. But the threat has reportedly dimmed the mood across Beijing, according to the LA Times, and "Sanlitun" has become one of the most-searched terms on Chinese social media site Weibo. Sanlitun is not the only part of the capital under heavy security, either; another shopping street, Wangfujing, was lined with police cars, and authorities have implemented roadblocks in one of Beijing's embassy districts.
It seems for now that Beijing authorities have everything under control and will be prepared to handle potential attacks in the capital. But while the terror threat's focus on Westerners is unusual, according to counter-terrorism expert Yang Shu, China has been struggling for some time with domestic terrorism in the autonomous territory of Xinjiang, where the ethnic Uighur minority and the Han Chinese majority have experienced increasingly violent clashes in recent years.
Large parts of Beijing are currently under lockdown, with plenty of armed guards being stationed on street corners and in areas heavily frequented by pedestrians. U.S. citizens experiencing an emergency are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy by phone at (+86 10) 8531-4000 or by email at beijingACS@state.gov.