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China Heightens Security in Wake of Train Station Attacks

China's top leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping, bottom center and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, bottom right, have a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of a slashing spree during the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, China, March 3, 2014.
China is strengthening security in the capital, Beijing, as it holds key political meetings just days after a violent attack at a train station in southwestern part of the country left more than 30 dead. Chinese authorities say separatists from the country's remote Xinjiang region were responsible for carrying out what officials described as a highly organized terrorist attack.

In the wake of the brutal Kunming attack, state media report officials in Beijing held an emergency meeting to boost safety and security in the capital.

The measures, among others, include heightening anti-terrorism and anti-explosives awareness in the city. Officials also called for strengthening security on public transportation such as buses and the city's massive and sprawling subway system.

Of the more than 10 attackers accused of involvement in Saturday's attack, four were shot dead and one taken into police custody. Others remain at large.

Some in Kunming say they felt uneasy that some assailants had not yet been apprehended.

Mrs. Shu, a shop owner in Kunming, said that while she feels safe during the day she worries at night. She said it is easier at night for the assailants to commit a crime and escape. She is worried they may come back.

Domestic security will be a key issue when Chinese officials meet this week in Beijing. Although China's military spending is growing rapidly, the tightly controlled country still spends more on domestic security than it does on defense.

Since 2009, China's security budget in Xinjiang alone has grown from $250,000 to $1 billion.

Twin sessions

In Beijing, China's top leaders met at the Great Hall of the People Monday for the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a government advisory body of 2,200 deputies.

Du Qingling a top official with the conference said the government extends its sincere condolences to those killed in the violent terrorist attack at Kunming station. He then asked deputies to hold a moment of silence.

Every year when China's top leadership gathers for its political meetings in the capital, there is always a striking increase in police presence on the streets. Security is particularly strengthened around Tiananmen Square where the meetings are held at the Great Hall of the People.

The meetings are called the twin sessions in Chinese because while advisors meet, lawmakers gather for what is called the National People's Congress at about the same time.

Off guard

In the attack's aftermath, many are demanding that a crackdown be launched. Some are also asking that anti-terror laws be strengthened to help the government have a better ability to respond.

James Leibold, a visiting professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the attacks caught the government off guard and heightened concerns that the incident could play into ethnic tensions. "I think they are particularly worried about the Han backlash. There are a lot of people talking about how this is reminiscent of 2009. When you had the Han riots in Shaoguang in Guangdong and how that spilled over into Urumqi and that terrible street violence. The government is worried to not let that get out to loose control of it," he said.

In 2009, Xinjiang was rocked by ethnic riots that left about 200 people dead, both Han Chinese and members of Xinjiang's Uighur Muslim minority group.

In late December, Leibold noted, Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined his vision for a new grand strategy for Xinjiang. And while details of that strategy are still coming together, it is clear that Xi intends to intensify controls in the region.

"I think we've got some indicators of what that might be and in short it's going to be a further penetration of the party state into the lives of ordinary people in Xinjiang," stated Leibold.

He added that will come in the form of more cameras on the streets and boots on the ground in Xinjiang. Party cadres will also be sent down to areas all over Xinjiang.

Xinjiang officials recently announced that some 200,000 cadres would be sent down to the grassroots over the next three years the region. The government aim in doing this, it said, is to improve people's livelihood and ensure lasting stability.