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China has tightened its security due to lockdown protests

China has moved quickly to quell weekend protests across the country, deploying police forces at key protest sites and tightening online censorship.

The protests were sparked by outrage over the country’s increasingly expensive zero-Covid policy, but as the number of protesters grew in multiple major cities, so did the range of grievances expressed – with some calling for greater democracy and freedom.

Hundreds of protesters have even called for the removal of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has presided over a strategy of mass testing, brute-force lockdowns, enforced quarantine, and digital tracking for nearly three years at a devastating human and economic cost.

Here’s what’s going on.

The protests were sparked by a deadly fire last Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang’s far western region. The fire in an apartment building killed at least ten people and injured nine others, inciting public outrage after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures preventing firefighters from reaching the victims.

The city had been under lockdown for more than a hundred days, with residents unable to leave and many forced to remain at home.

On Friday, videos showed Urumqi residents marching to a government building and chanting for the end of the lockdown. The following morning, the local government announced that the lockdown would be lifted in stages, but did not specify a time frame or address the protests.

This did not quell public outrage, and the protests quickly spread beyond Xinjiang, with residents taking to the streets in cities and universities across China.

Location of protests

CNN has confirmed 20 demonstrations in 15 Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing and the financial center Shanghai.
On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in Shanghai for a candlelight vigil on Urumqi Road, named after Xinjiang city, to mourn the fire victims. Many protested censorship by holding up blank sheets of white paper and chanting, “Need human rights, need freedom.”

Some also chanted “Xi, step down!” and sang The Internationale, a socialist anthem that has been used as a rallying cry in demonstrations around the world for more than a century.

It was also sung during pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square prior to a brutal crackdown by armed troops in 1989.

China’s zero-Covid policies have been felt most acutely in Shanghai, where a two-month lockdown earlier this year left many without access to food, medical care, or other basic supplies, causing widespread public outrage.

By Sunday evening, mass protests had spread to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, where thousands of residents demanded not only the removal of Covid restrictions but also political freedom. Residents in some gated communities tore down barriers and took to the streets.

Protests also took place on university campuses, including the prestigious Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, as well as the Communication University of China in Nanjing.

In Hong Kong, where Beijing’s 2020 national security law has been used to stifle dissent, dozens of people gathered for a vigil on Monday evening in the city’s Central district.

Others left flowers and signs commemorating those killed in the Urumqi fire, while some held blank pieces of paper.

The Importance

In China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, wiped out much of civil society, and built a high-tech surveillance state, public protest is extremely rare.

In Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is accused of detaining up to 2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in camps where former detainees claim they were physically and sexually abused, the mass surveillance system is even stricter.

In September, a damning UN report described the region’s “invasive” surveillance network, which included police databases containing hundreds of thousands of files containing biometric data such as facial and eyeball scans.

China has consistently denied allegations of human rights violations in the region.

While protests do occur in China, they are rarely on this scale or take such direct aim at the central government and the country’s leader, according to Maria Repnikova, an associate professor of Chinese politics and media at Georgia State University.

“This is a different type of protest than the more localized protests we’ve seen recurring over the last two decades, which tend to focus their claims and demands on local officials and on very specific societal and economic issues,” she explained.

Instead, the protests this time have included “a sharper expression of political grievances alongside concerns about Covid-19 lockdowns.”

After nearly three years of economic hardship and disruption to daily life, there are growing indications that the public has lost patience with zero-Covid.

Isolated pockets of protest erupted in October, with anti-zero-Covid slogans appearing on the walls of public restrooms and in various Chinese cities, sparked by a banner hung by a lone protester on a Beijing overpass just days before Xi was sworn in for a third term.

Larger protests took place earlier in November in Guangzhou, with residents defying lockdown orders to topple barriers and cheer as they took to the streets.

The Authorities’ view on the happenings

While protests in several parts of China appear to have died down peacefully over the weekend, authorities in some cities reacted more forcefully.

Protesters clashed with police in Shanghai on Saturday, resulting in arrests in the early hours of the morning.

Undaunted, protesters returned on Sunday, only to be met with a more aggressive response – videos show police pushing, dragging, and beating protesters.

Censors have since removed the videos from the Chinese internet.

According to one Shanghai protester, he was one of 80 to 110 people detained in the city on Saturday night. He described being taken to a police station, having his phone confiscated, and having biometric data collected before being released the next day.

According to one Shanghai protester, he was one of 80 to 110 people detained in the city on Saturday night. He described being taken to a police station, having his phone confiscated, and having biometric data collected before being released the next day.

CNN is unable to independently confirm the number of people arrested.

Two foreign journalists were also detained for a short time. A BBC spokesperson claimed that journalist Edward Lawrence was “beaten and kicked by the police” while covering the protests in Shanghai on Sunday night. He was later released.

Also read: Protestors rise against Xi Jinping’s Zero Covid Policy

Lawrence had not identified himself as a journalist before being detained, according to a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday.

Michael Peuker, China correspondent for Swiss public broadcaster RTS, said several police officers approached him while he was reporting live. He later tweeted that the officers had taken him and his cameraman into a vehicle and then released them.

On Monday, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry deflected questions about the protests, telling a reporter that widespread public outrage would prompt China to consider ending zero-Covid: “What you said does not accurately reflect what happened.”

He also claimed that social media posts linking the Xinjiang fire to Covid policies were motivated by “ulterior motives” and that authorities were “making adjustments based on realities on the ground.” When asked about the protesters calling for Xi’s resignation, he said, “I’m not aware of the situation you mentioned.”

State-run media has not directly covered the protests but has praised zero-Covid, with one newspaper calling it “the most scientifically effective” approach on Sunday.

What does the World think?

Vigils and demonstrations in support of Chinese protesters have taken place around the world in recent days, including in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Malaysia.

As news of the protests spread around the world, foreign government officials and organizations expressed their support for the protesters while criticizing Beijing’s response.

“We’re keeping an eye on it, as you might expect,” US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said on Monday. “We will continue to stand up for the right to peaceful protest.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told reporters that the Chinese government should “listen to the voices of its own people… when they say they are unhappy with the restrictions imposed on them.”

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) also condemned “the intolerable intimidation and aggression” directed toward member journalists in China on Monday, an apparent reference to the detained foreign journalists.


Source: CNN

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