The director for security for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee announced today that protests would be allowed in specially designated areas in several parks in Beijing during the Olympics. According to BOCOG:

“During the Olympics, in order to ensure a smooth traffic, nice environment and good social order, we would like to ask protestors to go to the designated parks.”

This development is somewhat surprising, as Chinese security officials have expressed significant concern that political demonstrations during the games constitute a direct security threat. Previously, most indications were that anyone seeking a permit for anything other than a small pep rally would most likely be denied by the police. Of course, I would not expect the three parks designated as protest zones to become an open forum for any and all to challenge the government and party. I would expect significant limits on political expression.

However, this announcement indicates that Chinese security officials acknowledge the value of providing a controlled venue for political expression, much as other cities hosting major events provide locales for protesters. This is in keeping with international practice and it is likely that this decision is the result of extensive consultation and collaboration with international experts.

Earlier this year, I published a paper, “Olympic Security Collaboration” discussing U.S. perspectives of Chinese Olympic security preparations and the relative intensity of cooperation. These Olympics are the first since 1980 hosted by a non-NATO or non-U.S. treaty ally. As a result, the level of cooperation between U.S. and Chinese authorities has significantly differed from previous games. For instance, these are the first games since Moscow where the U.S. military has not actively collaborated and trained with host nation counterparts. That said, there is extensive coordination occurring between civilian authorities, and obviously, that is having a positive effect.