World Watches China's Shifting Faces

China juggles its need for absolute control with improving its global image.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:09 AM

BEIJING, China, June 4, 2008 — -- An American friend of mine in Beijing was recently told by her landlord that she had one week to move out.

Unbeknownst to her, her building is not permitted to rent out apartments to foreigners, and authorities were threatening to penalize her landlord unless he evicted her, her husband and their adorable little dog. Even though she had a signed one-year lease, she had no choice but to pack up, move out and find a new apartment within seven days.

While I was covering the May 12 Sichuan earthquake, I got a call from my landlord to remind me that, as a foreigner, I had to register at the local police department every time I leave and enter the country. The authorities are going building-to-building, making sure all foreigners are vetted and accounted for.

Two months before the Olympics, China is in full control mode, trying to ensure stability and security at the Games, its all-important debut on the world stage.

But for us expatriates living in China, it's becoming a royal pain.

The other day, I tried to order from my usual sandwich delivery shop, but was told delivery people are no longer allowed inside the gates of the diplomatic compound where our office is located, which means my lazy American self had to get up and meet the delivery man three blocks away. What's the point of delivery if you have to meet halfway?

Then yesterday, the taxi I was riding was stopped at the gate and I had to walk the rest of the way to the office my American passport is no longer a free pass into the compound.

Later in the day, our bureau van, even with a parking permit, was stopped from entering.

The final insult was when, a few hours later, a Chinese member of staff was prohibited from entering. She has been coming to tidy our office five days a week for the last year, and yet suddenly, and without warning, her ID card was no longer worth anything.

The words "China" and "crackdown" are frequently used together. Whether it is democracy protesters, or religious groups, or Tibetan monks or journalists, the Chinese authorities are professionals at orchestrating massive and rapid measures to exert control.