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Blog: Under close watch in China

on 16/07/2019

Whenever we Australian representatives of the Fourth Estate come to China, there are always a few little signs that they’re keeping an eye on us.

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For starters, it’s wise to assume the hotel rooms are bugged and that if we leave electronic equipment lying around, it soon will be too. We’re advised to carry our laptops and tablets with us and not leave them unattended.

In some hotels, we are housed in rooms one under the other — presumably because that makes the cabling easier. In other places, lots of helpful staff come to the hotel room door to deliver things or check on things or fix things not reported broken and don’t always observe the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. (And they’re just the ones who come while you’re actually in the room.)

Here in Sanya, we’ve been ably assisted at breakfast by a very cheerful chap with an Anglo name – let’s call him George – who speaks some English and is terribly helpful, considering our collective Mandarin is mostly lousy (with the exception of those correspondents actually based here).

George always seems to be around when we need something. We were amused to note that in a big, fancy hotel with hundreds of staff, it happened to be George, having assisted us at breakfast at 7am, who materialised to take our orders and serve us dinner in a different part of the hotel at 8pm that night. Now that is good service.

And incoming phone calls to our mobiles always seem to register as some weird number.

So far on this visit, I’ve received two incoming calls from Australia (we communicate mostly by email – also presumably being monitored).

The first came up on my phone as being from the number +019661101. The second one a few hours later registered as coming from +019661102. Good to know someone’s keeping count.

On the whole, the surveillance thus far is not terribly intrusive and goodness knows what secrets they hope to uncover. Mostly, our conversations have been about our own deadlines, the logistics of the trip and how humid it is here in Sanya.

Having said all that, notwithstanding the usual heavy security which goes with staying in hotels involved in big international conferences (there are scuba security officers scouring the ocean just off the beach), the hotel staff are all super friendly and surely can’t all be spies. Surely.

Of course, there are a lot of people in China so they do have the capacity to do a very thorough job at any labour-intensive task.

And there goes the doorbell again now…


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