The holidays are off to an unsettling start in Beijing.
This morning (Dec. 24) the US embassy sent out a message urging foreigners to stay away from Sanlitun, a major shopping district, citing “possible threats against Westerners” as a reason for the warning. The area is popular among expatriates and is also home to several foreign embassy offices.
The embassies of France and the UK have since issued similar messages. The British embassy also cautioned citizens traveling in Xinjiang, the Chinese province known for its Muslim population.
China’s embassy in the US also sent out a general warning for its citizens living there to be cautious (link in Chinese), without offering specific information.
Observers report that traffic has been closed in the areas surrounding most of the embassies in Sanlitun. Meanwhile, pictures have circulated on WeChat showing armed military vehicles inside a pedestrian shopping area and near some embassy offices.
The US embassy in China couldn’t be reached for comment outside of normal operating hours.
Warnings directed at foreigners such as these are rare in China, as is violence directed at Westerners in general. In August, a young Chinese male stabbed a French national and his Chinese girlfriend, killing the latter. It’s not clear if the attack, which also occurred in Sanlitun, was motivated by anti-foreign sentiment.