Businesses closed in Beijing, security stepped up ahead of 19th Party Congress

People play cards in a hutong alley that is decorated with Chinese national flags in an old part of Beijing as the capital prepares for the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, on Oct 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - Businesses ranging from cookware to karaoke in China's teeming capital have temporarily shut down as the ruling Communist Party prepares to hold its most important political event of the last five years.

Fitness centres, short-term rental websites and even online retailers told AFP that they would not be operating in Beijing during the 19th National Congress which officially opens on Wednesday (Oct 18).

Many businesses have already closed up while a heightened police presence has descended on the capital. Wang Feng, a salesman at Focus 24 Hours Fitness, said the gym would be closed from Oct 14-25 to "welcome the Party Congress", echoing the language on bright red banners hung across the city.

Employees at four entertainment venues - Mr. 13 club, Kaixingguo ("Pistachio") KTV, Club Mix and Changba KTV karaoke bar -said they would not open for business until the end of the month.

"All the clubs and KTV (karaoke bars) in Beijing have been closed during this time because of the congress," a manager at Mr. 13 told AFP, adding that they were ordered by the government to do so.

Some business suspensions were aimed at preventing people and potentially dangerous objects from entering the city. Searches on Xiaozhu and Mayi Duanzu, websites which offer short-term rentals, turned up "no results" in central Beijing for dates from mid- to late October. Airbnb has also cancelled without explanation all bookings within central Beijing through the end of the month, according to its website.

Several online kitchenware retailers, including Zhao Xiaoquan and You Da, said delivery companies had informed them they would not be processing knife and scissors orders destined for Beijing during the congress.

A variety of entertainment had also been put on hold. A football match between the capital's home team Guoan and Chongqing's Dangdai Lifan scheduled before the congress was shifted to later in October. A music and dance club cancelled shows planned for the two weeks around the congress, but said it was "too sensitive" to reveal why.

High-level meetings in China are typically accompanied by a security crackdown with the Chinese government not wanting to run the risk that anyone or anything offers a distraction.

Thousands of police officers had reportedly been deployed from the provinces to the Chinese capital and security checks had stepped up at subway stations.

The Beijing Daily reported last month that the city's largest market for metal building materials would be relocated to Hebei province taking with it more than 10,000 industry workers and stall owners.

The market's unceasing growth had created a "messy environment" where migrants congregate, the newspaper said, without mentioning the crucial party gathering.

In late September, some 400 railway security personnel held tactical exercises in preparation for the congress, China National Radio reported. Photos showed police undergoing a hostage-taking exercise where SWAT-uniformed officers used ropes to scale a building and rescue a dangling captive.

Some foreigners had been visited at home by police asking to see visas and paperwork. China keeps a close watch on foreigners visiting or living within its borders, requiring them to register their whereabouts upon arrival with local public security bureaus - a protocol at times evaded by those involved in the growing room-sharing economy.

As early as July, certain television shows were stopped. The censorship bureau released a notice calling for provincial TV stations to stop broadcasts of period costume and teen idol dramas "in order to stay in step with the overall atmosphere" of seriousness surrounding the congress.

In late September, Hubei Province TV said it had replaced "Informal Talks", a popular talk show of foreigners discussing China's social problems in Chinese, with one called "Glorious China" in order to "welcome" the congress.

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