China: Amid protests over COVID lockdowns, Xi Jinping faces the biggest challenge of this tenure

The failure of the zero-COVID policy is leading to unprecedented protests in the cities

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Anjan Roy

As protests against Covid lockdowns and harassment of the ordinary people get louder and more widespread, it is turning into a call against the Chinese nation’s supremo Xi Jinping. This is an unprecedented new trend in Chinese society. 

China is facing waves of protests —something unseen and unthinkable until recently— over lockdowns by people across the country. The anti-Covid restrictions protests are now widening into an expression of general dissent against the suppression of workers rights, low wages and bad working conditions. The latest death of ten people in a locked room during the covid lockdown has fuelled the anger of the common people.

Amidst all this, the call for freedom rings loudly. To place this call within context, previously, covid restrictions had prevented a team of firefighters from attending a fire in a condominium the restive province of Xinjiang. The delay and derelictions stemming mainly from restrictions on the movements of people resulted in the deaths of several residents trapped in the besieged housing complex. There were scores of injured people. All of this was utterly preventable, but because of the continuing restrictions, an unmitigated tragedy took place.

Incensed residents and locals had gathered together and fought police dressed in hazmat suits. Several agencies had reported the insensitive ways in which the hassled people were treated by the security forces. In the midst of the protests, a man had emerged shouting slogans of freedom. He is reported to have shouted: “I would rather die than live without freedom.” At that point, he was captured by a posse of hazmat clad security forces. However, the local residents had struggled with security and rescued him.

The incident is not isolated. Such cries for freedom are being heard from across the country. Personal grief is making people overcome the fear of official torture. One report stated that an automobile worker lost his father due to a delay in medical interventions. The security forces stopped the man’s relatives reaching the man and taking him to a hospital that was five minutes away. He died due to the delay. His son had sought to inform the Chinese media in Beijing about this preventable tragedy, but without any takers. However, despite the risk to his own safety, the bereaved son braved his way to the international media to bring attention to his case.

Children are paying the heavy price of restrictions to healthcare services. In fact, the delay in providing medical care to afflicted children, some of whom are only a few months old, is proving to be fatal. This had managed to outrage parents and grandparents enough to take to the streets and oppose the regime and its harsh dictums. The cumulative impact of these incidences is that people are becoming more defiant and overcoming their fear of the regime.

In a highly visible protest, workers of the world’s largest iPhone-making factory had repeatedly clashed with the police and demanded lockdowns to be withdrawn. The factory owned by Taiwanese manufacturing giant, Foxcomm, produced half of the total production of these instruments. The situation had turned so ugly that the owners of the factory had offered $1400 to each worker to leave the factory premises and cease protests. However, this olive branch is yet to be accepted and the workers continue to occupy the factory in protest of the authorities clamping down on their freedoms in the central Chinese city. Videos have gone viral showing hazmat-clad security forces beating down workers of the factory, while the latter are seen bringing down the structures imposed for the movements of people under Covid protocols. Workers have also protested against low wages and hostile working conditions in other such factories across the country.  The Foxcomm protests have become symbolic of the expression of dissatisfaction over the way people are being treated. In many cases, defying the censors, videos of protest are going viral for much longer and in more surreptitious ways than was previously possible.

Several other unrelated developments are fanning the fire. Chinese football fans are watching the World Cup in the not-so-distant Qatar. Innumerable fans are cheering their teams on in packed stadiums, not one wearing a face mask or keeping safe distance between each other. One international agency quoted a Chinese person watching the games as saying: “Aren’t these people living in the same plant as the Chinese?”

Even as the country is continuing with strict restrictions, the incidences of infections are rising. This week alone, fresh infections are reported to have crossed 40,000. The most damaging part of the recent protests is that the severe Covid restrictions carried the personal sign-off of the Chinese president Xi Jinping. He had insisted on the strictest implementation of the restrictions including city-wide clampdowns, along with a zero-covid policy as the ultimate panacea.

The irony is that only a week back, the Chinese President was widely shown on Chinese TV meeting a diverse group of people, including heads of states and other leaders, without any face mask. He was freely mingling among the crowds of the high and mighty at state banquets and other events. Even his entourage was swirling around him without masks or practicing safe distances.

To sum up, Xi Jinping’s zero covid policy has been clearly identified as being ineffective, as the rest of the world has crawled back to normalcy, while China is still curfew bound. 

(IPA Service)

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