Sep 8, 2011 | 12:04 GMT

13 mins read

China Security Memo: Increased Focus on Imitation Guns

'Imitation' Firearms

Police in Foshan, Guangdong province, busted an illegal factory producing air gun pellets Sept. 1. They seized 26.8 tons of lead pellets used in air guns (about 30 million rounds) and arrested nine suspects. The suspects had manufactured and sold 6 tons of pellets in the past year. STRATFOR has written about the increased use of firearms, including "imitation" guns, in violent crime in China since the global financial crisis. The definition of imitation guns is ambiguous, but they can include toy guns, non-firing replicas or air guns (which fire metallic or plastic projectiles by means of compressed air or other gases rather than via combustion and are less lethal than real guns). Although it is not clear that there has been a recent increase in the availability or use of imitation guns, there has been a notable uptick in state media coverage of arrests for smuggling or ownership of such guns. Some examples include the following:
  • On June 15, police in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, arrested a suspect accused of importing imitation guns and their parts from the United States. An accomplice had been arrested in April.
  • On June 28, the Dongguan Public Security Bureau announced that a man had been arrested for allegedly selling imitation guns on the Internet.
  • On July 4, police arrested four suspects in Hefei, Anhui province, on charges of trafficking and selling imitation guns.
  • On Aug. 3, police in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, announced the arrests of 11 suspects accused of producing imitation guns, including AK-47 and sniper rifle replicas. The first suspect was detained in April.
  • On Aug. 10, Nanfang Daily reported that a craftsman in Jiangmen and an online seller in Foshan, both in Guangdong province, were arrested in May on charges of producing and selling imitation guns.
  • On Aug. 15, reports said three men in Jinjiang, Fujian province, were being charged with producing and selling imitation guns after police raided a toy gun factory.
There also have been busts related to organized crime. At least four cases involving the possession or use of imitation guns by organized crime elements have been reported since late June, the most recent being the Aug. 23 arrests of 23 suspects in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province; the suspects allegedly had five imitation guns in their possession. Chinese organized crime groups are well-aware that for low-level crimes, imitation guns can serve the same purpose as real ones. One interesting element of the reports is the recurrent claim that imitation guns can be easily converted into real ones. For the air guns this is a dubious statement, as the barrel would not be strong enough to withstand the pressure of firing a real cartridge. It would be easier to make an improvised firearm, as was seen in the case of the 17-member organized crime group busted Aug. 5 with seven improvised shotguns in Beihai, Guangxi province, than to modify an air gun. However, many replica guns have everything they need to fire a blank round and could therefore fire a live cartridge if the barrel, which is typically obstructed, were replaced or bored out. Even without these modifications, some imitation guns can cause injury, and most look authentic enough to be useful in carrying out robberies or other criminal acts. Authorities may be concerned about an uptick in crimes utilizing imitation guns, but the state's tight control of information and statistics on criminal activity makes it difficult to assess whether the guns have become more prevalent. What is clear is that Beijing is nervous about general discontent and thus wants to ensure that all guns — whether imitation or real — are kept out of the hands of the public. There are also reports of real guns being used in China. China is one of the largest producers and exporters of firearms, so it is possible to acquire authentic weapons from factories through bribery or corruption. Still, it is interesting that real guns have not been seen in recent cases like the violence in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region; instead, only improvised firearms have been used in Xinjiang. This is even more significant when considering that China shares a border with Pakistan, where guns are easily purchased and can be smuggled in via Xinjiang. (In fact, STRATFOR intelligence suggests that a real gun in Pakistan costs considerably less than an imitation firearm in China.) This suggests that access to real firearms remains limited in Xinjiang. The prevalence of imitation guns, which are widely manufactured in China for export, may be growing to replace the limited availability of their authentic counterparts. Or Chinese state media may be devoting more attention to the matter for some as-yet-unknown political reason. Either way, it is clear that authorities are focused on imitation guns and that an effort is under way to crack down on them.

Security at Xinjiang Expo

The China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, Xinjiang, concluded Sept. 5 without incident. The expo began Sept. 1 with an opening ceremony that included the presidents of Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan, the vice premiers of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and China's Foreign Ministry spokesman. Airports in Xinjiang raised security to the second-highest level Aug. 12 after July violence and in preparation for the expo, and Urumqi's airport elevated security to the highest possible level Aug. 28. (On the same day, major airports throughout the country without warning bumped up security to the second-highest level for passengers bound for Xinjiang.) Chinese newspaper Ming Pao reported that Urumqi had banned kite flying and homing pigeons and sent armed police on patrol for the expo. Some reports said that about 20,000 police and security personnel were deployed in the city. The counterterrorism unit of the People's Liberation Army, known as the Snow Leopard Commando Unit, also was stationed in Xinjiang. According to reports, between Aug. 12 and Aug. 24, at least five people were prevented from bringing knives aboard airplanes in Urumqi or Kashgar (there were no reported incidents after Aug. 28). The incidents seemed mostly harmless — knives are often carried aboard planes in China without ill intent — so it seems Beijing is playing up the security. No real plots have been detailed in the media, though it is possible one of the passengers could have planned serial stabbings like those seen recently in Hotan and Kashgar. There were also rumors of terrorist plots, though these could have been manufactured to justify the otherwise unexplained security increase. The presence of high-level officials at the China-Eurasia Expo would explain the increased airport security, but it is odd that the measures did not come with a warning as was the case with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 Shanghai Expo and the 2011 Universiade in Shenzhen. (click here to view interactive map)

Aug. 31

  • A detainee named Yao Junkai died in a detention center in Shishou, Hebei province, on Aug. 30, Chinese media reported. Yao's family found wounds on his body and suspect Yao was beaten before dying. Shishou procuratorate has started the investigation and will release the cause of death after an autopsy.
  • Li Hua, former president of China Mobile Communications Group Sichuan Co. Ltd., had all of his property confiscated and was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by a court in Panzhihua city, Sichuan province. Li was found guilty of accepting nearly 16.4 million yuan ($2.5 million) in bribes.
  • Four workers who climbed to the top of a 40-meter-high (130-foot-high) tower crane at a construction site in Sanya, Hainan province, and threatened to commit suicide over a wage disputes with their boss were rescued Aug. 30, Chinese media reported. This incident was similar to a protest reported last week in Liupanshui, Guizhou province.
  • A 12-member gang involved in organized crime was busted Aug. 30 in Wuhan, Hubei province, Chinese media reported. The head of the gang helped one of the gang members become a squadron leader at an urban management department. The squadron leader later helped the gang obtain 37 construction projects valued at up to tens of millions of yuan.

Sept. 1

  • The China National Petroleum Corp. announced that the general manager of its subsidiary, the Dalian Petrochemical Co., in Liaoning province was dismissed. Eight hundred tons of diesel fuel at the plant burned Aug. 29 in the second major fire in two months. This follows major protests at a separate factory in Dalian.
  • On Aug. 15, more than 2,000 villagers in the region around Shantou, Guangdong province, destroyed about 10 illegal rare earth mining sites that some local government officials were secretly supporting, Chinese media reported. The mining has damaged the mountain vegetation, and the water used for washing ore has been directly discharged into the local reservoir. According to the villagers, the rare earths have been smuggled to Japan. The former political commissar at the Forest Public Security Bureau has been investigated.

Sept. 2

  • The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that four central government departments had been involved in shutting down 6,600 illegal websites since April. The national ministry has directed local telecommunications administrations to inspect websites on their networks.
  • On Aug. 30 a number of employees at the Yizhuang office of Nokia Corp. in Beijing refused to accept the unilateral revocation of contract put forward by the Nokia human resources department in China because the company only gave them 10 days notice, the China Youth Daily reported. About 170 employees were to be laid off or transferred to jobs at Accenture. The employees claim that under Chinese labor laws, Nokia needs to discuss the redundancy plan with the labor union and file paperwork 30 days prior to carrying out the plan.
  • A truck carrying trichlorosilane exploded due to a leakage of the toxic chemical at a chemical logistics corporation in Leshan city, Sichuan province. The toxic gases spread rapidly and more than 200 people were removed from the building. Twenty-one people were sent to a hospital and two more were diagnosed with moderate poisoning.
  • Seven suspects were arrested Sept. 2 on charges of involvement in organized crime, illegal possession of guns and intentional injury, among other charges, in Guangning, Guangdong province.
  • Two migrant workers jailed for 29 days in Liupanshui, Guizhou province, were released Sept. 2. One of the workers, surnamed Zhang, was detained for climbing on top of a tower crane for 70 days over a wage dispute. The other was jailed for delivering food to Zhang every day. Another worker who had stayed on a tower crane for 69 days was put under house arrest.
  • Thirty-eight suspects were on trial at the Chaoyang City Intermediate People's Court in Beijing for producing and trafficking more than 20 tons of explosives and more than 10,000 detonators. The case is the largest concerning the illegal manufacture, sale, transportation and storage of explosives in Liaoning province in the past several years.

Sept. 4

  • Three hundred police officers from the Lingao PSB in Hainan province were searching for a fugitive security guard who allegedly shot and killed a villager.

Sept. 5

  • Police in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, captured a criminal suspected in multiple armed robberies and seized one gun. The man allegedly robbed at gunpoint and killed two people outside two different banks Aug. 23 and Aug. 29.

Sept. 6

  • A television channel in Zhengzhou, Henan province, reported that a number of brick kilns in small cities in the province were using enslaved mentally disabled workers. Public security bureaus in the different cities, including Zhumadian and Dengfeng, freed 30 workers after the investigation. They also investigated a smuggling network that was allegedly supplying slave labor within the province.
  • Five criminal suspects accused of killing a woman from Hong Kong were arrested in Shanghai. The lead suspect had been a financial manager at a company and allegedly had embezzled about 7.5 million yuan from the company. After the victim demoted him, he allegedly hired four people to kill her.
  • Police in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, broke up a gang with six members involved in drug trafficking. Police seized more than 75,000 tablets of "magu," an illicit substance similar to Ecstasy, and 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of methamphetamine valued at more than 3 million yuan.
  • China News reported that from Aug. 12 to the beginning of September, authorities from the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture PSB in Yunnan province had arrested up to 103 suspects for drug-related crimes and imposed compulsory quarantine drug treatment on 93 drug abusers. The Dali Bai PSB launched a special anti-drug campaign in August.
  • A 20-year-old female model from Slovakia died when she fell from her 18th floor apartment in Xuhui district in Shanghai. One of the apartment's security guards told journalists that there were several foreign models living in the same apartment unit. The eyewitness said none of the models came downstairs after the incident. Police have ruled out homicide as a possibility.
  • The Guangzhou Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement in Guangdong province announced a regulation campaign against illegal vendors at key sections of roads and said key districts in the city would be inspected. Urban management officers, known as "cheng guan," will take a zero-tolerance attitude against any illegal street vendors starting Sept. 13. Aggressive tactics by cheng guan already have been a divisive issue on numerous occasions.

Sept. 7

  • The South China Morning Post reported on villagers in Zhoutie, Jiangsu province, who refused to leave their homes, which local property developers wanted to demolish. The developers had attacked and intimidated the residents in an attempt to pressure them to take compensation for the houses.

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