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Protests in China highlight Xi’s Zero COVID policy

Protests in China highlight Xi’s Zero COVID policy

According to China commentators, the unusual street protests that erupted in cities throughout China over the weekend were a referendum against President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy and the strongest public resistance during his political tenure.

Not since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 have so many Chinese risked jail and other consequences to come to the streets for a single topic.

“During Xi Jinping’s ten years in office, these are the most visible and broad expressions of civilian resentment against government policies,” said Bates Gill, an Asia Society China scholar.

Public displeasure with Xi’s zero-COVID policy, expressed on social media or offline in the form of putting up posters at campuses or protesting, is Xi’s most serious domestic challenge since Hong Kong protests over an extradition bill in 2019.

When he sought a record-breaking third term at the 20th Communist Party Congress in October, Xi claimed personal responsibility for leading the “war” against COVID-19, justified zero-COVID with the need to “put people above everything,” and cited his “correct” COVID policy as one of his political achievements.

Nearly three years into the epidemic, China maintains its policies are not aimed at having zero cases at all times, but rather at “dynamically” responding to cases as they emerge.

Despite the fact that the protests are embarrassing for Xi, they continue.

Even if the demonstrations are embarrassing for Xi, observers say they are unlikely to topple him since he has complete control over the party, military, security, and propaganda machinery.


Even if the demonstrations are embarrassing for Xi, observers say they are unlikely to topple him since he has complete control over the party, military, security, and propaganda.

While some demonstrators screamed “Down with Xi Jinping, down with the Chinese Communist Party,” most others were just concerned with avoiding a lockdown of their residential complexes or being spared from periodic virus testing.

“Once these self-interests are served, most people will be appeased and will go on,” said Chen Daoyin, a former associate professor of political science and law at Shanghai University who is now a Chilean pundit.

According to Chen, students were neither well-organized nor directed by a prominent personality. Protests were held in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu, and Urumqi, among other cities.

There were internal disputes among top party officials on how to manage the crisis and what way to take China in the future during the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown by Chinese authorities, the last time demonstrations led to the removal of the party’s general secretary.

This is not the case with Xi. With the Congress, Xi prolonged his term as party leader and military commander-in-chief, and he installed his acolytes in all of the party’s key positions. Leaders who had previously stated opposing viewpoints or ruled in a different manner than he were ostracized.

Although this authoritarian structure gave Xi more authority, observers say it still has flaws, as seen by the demonstrations.

“By exclusively surrounding himself with individuals who say what he wants to hear, Xi locks himself in an echo chamber,” said Lance Gore, a China researcher at the East Asian Institute in Singapore.


The demonstrations compound Xi’s increasing dilemma: how to back down from a policy that was once a source of pride but is now a rising burden.

If he caves to public pressure and repeals zero-COVID, he will seem weak, which may inspire people to come to the streets again in the future if they want change.

“If he lets go, it will signal that his previous zero-COVID policy has failed utterly, and he will have to accept responsibility for it. This causes him to lose face “Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights activist, lawyer, and academic, stated

According to the observers, giving in is not in Xi’s character.

Xi has often underlined the need of preventing a “color revolution,” or anti-government rallies, most recently at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Uzbekistan in September. In a closed-door lecture, he also lamented that the Soviet Communist Party failed because no one was “man enough” to face the task.

If he abandons his COVID-19 program before China is ready, it might result in widespread disease, death, and an overburdened medical system, all of which are unpalatable implications.

But if he pushes through without finding a means to proclaim success and back down, he risks infuriating an increasingly irritated population while slowing economic development.

With the introduction of “20 measures” last month, Xi attempted to adjust the zero-COVID policy in a bid to harmonize preventative measures countrywide and make them friendlier to citizens and the economy.

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

However, because Xi has not formally repudiated the necessity to contain all outbreaks, many local governments are still erring on the side of caution and enacting tighter lockdown and quarantine laws than the “20 measures.”

“At this point, they appear to be dumb,” Willy Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, said.

“On the one hand, Xi Jinping and his supporters appeared to be unstoppable. At the same time, we observe a complete lack of responsiveness from the new administration.”


Source: Reuters

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