Xi Jinping faces toughest challenge to governance as Covid anger sparks mass protests

Xi Jinping faces one of his biggest challenges as China’s president after tens of thousands of people took to the streets due to Beijing’s strict coronavirus restrictions and crackdown on free speech.

At least 10 cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Chengdu, were rocked by rare political protests over the weekend, leading to clashes with police and security officers that led to a wave of arrests, including of two foreign journalists.

A sudden outbreak of civil disobedience was triggered by anger after a deadly apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, that was blamed in part on coronavirus restrictions. While most of the protests appeared to have been quashed by Monday, they followed months of frustration, especially among young people in China, with lockdowns, quarantines, mass testing and relentless online monitoring. Xi’s Covid-free policies.

markets in China Strained in early trading On Monday, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises index down 4.5 percent and the renminbi losing ground against the US dollar.

In Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the first cases of the coronavirus emerged, online videos showed thousands of people marching down a popular shopping street in what appeared to be the largest single protest of the weekend.

One of those involved told the Financial Times that the crowd numbered in the tens of thousands and “liberated” closed neighborhoods by removing fences around apartment blocks. Demonstrations also took place in other locations across the city.

The government has urged universities to send students home as soon as possible to quell more dissent on campuses, according to a provincial education official.

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In the capital, Beijing, hundreds of students staged peaceful demonstrations on Sunday at the prestigious Tsinghua and Beijing universities. students in Beijing as well as protesters in other cities, Hold on to blank pieces of paperrejecting the worsening censorship under the Xi administration.

In the capital, protesters also gathered at a central canal on Sunday chanting: “We don’t want PCR tests, we want freedom.” By Monday morning, dozens of police cars were stationed at the entrances to the canal.

A bus full of police officers pulled up nearby, and other groups walked the lanes that run along the water.

John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said on Monday that US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the protests and is monitoring the situation closely. He said the Biden administration does not support widespread shutdowns in the United States at this point in the pandemic.

There are people in China who have concerns about that. “They’re protesting about it and we think they should be able to do it peacefully,” Kirby said.

As vigils over the Urumqi deaths morphed into protests against Xi’s policies, analysts said their scale and tough political demands had not been seen in China in decades. They warned that demonstrators faced brutal reprisals if dissent flared up again.

Xi is the most powerful leader of the nation since Mao Zedong having recently secured an unprecedented third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party. The hallmark of his leadership was the expansion of the state’s strict surveillance security apparatus and the rapid suppression of dissent.

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“You would expect them to take a very draconian, repressive approach, but this risks creating martyrs, fueling another wave and giving a rallying cry to the protesters who have already come out,” said John Delory, a China expert at Yonsei University in Yonsei. flood.

“They’re smart enough to recognize the risks, but they can’t let that happen either.”

While China has always had a spotty situation, Yuen Yuen Ang, of the University of Michigan, said protestsBeijing fears a “patriotic” movement.

“The protests . . . are not about narrow domestic issues. Instead, people have been protesting against Zero Covid – a national policy and Xi’s personal agenda, a policy he declared China should “adhere without hesitation” just in October.

“This is a challenge to the central authority at the highest level.”

At the site of a vigil that began on Saturday night at a crossroads in Shanghai, police had lined the streets Monday morning with blue barricades. There were a few people taking pictures and a long line of police cars, but there were no other signs of the large gathering that spiraled down Wolomoke Road on Sunday.

The incident, which provided some of the most dramatic scenes of civil disobedience in China since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, continued into Sunday night. One person at the scene said that eventually the police began arresting people “group by group.”

Blue slabs were put in place to block the main road from the sidewalk, where hundreds of people gathered and now and then huddled in screams or scuffles with the police.

In Shanghai, a BBC correspondent was among those detained. The BBC said in a statement that journalist Ed Lawrence was “beaten and kicked” by police and detained for several hours before being released. A Reuters reporter was also briefly detained in Shanghai.

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Confusion spread over the zero Covid policy. On Monday, Beijing postponed the annual civil servants exams, which had been scheduled to be taken by 2.5 million people for a decade this weekend, citing Covid-19 controls. But in other parts of the country, there have been indications of local officials easing some restrictions in response to growing public discontent.

The protests spread to Hong Kong on Monday night. Dozens of mainland students and workers and some locals gathered downtown and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, defying a 2020 security law that effectively bans political demonstrations.

“We need to contribute in ways we can from outside mainland China . . . we hope this will be good for the democratic spirit of our nation,” said a 24-year-old woman from the mainland who declined to be named because of safety concerns.

Additional reporting by Gloria Lee, Nian Liu, Qian’er Liu, Wang Xueqiao, Cheng Ling, Arjun Neil Alim, Mikey Ding, Primrose Riordan, Chan Huo, Hudson Lockett and Felicia Schwartz

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