China threatens "resolute" crackdown if Covid protests are repeated

Beijing, China - China threatened on Wednesday to "resolutely crack down" on any new protests following the wave of demonstrations against its coronavirus policy that swept the country over the weekend.

People in Beijing, China, hold white sheets of paper in protest over Covid-19 restrictions after a vigil for the victims of a fire in Urumqi.
People in Beijing, China, hold white sheets of paper in protest over Covid-19 restrictions after a vigil for the victims of a fire in Urumqi.  © REUTERS

"It is necessary to resolve conflicts and disputes in a timely manner and help solve the practical difficulties of the people," the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the ruling Communist Party was quoted as saying by state news agency Xinhua.

However, the commission, a powerful body within President Xi Jinping's government that oversees all legal enforcement authorities, including the police, also blamed "hostile forces" for having disrupted the "social order."

"We must resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces in accordance with the law, resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order, and effectively maintain overall social stability," read the statement.

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People took to streets in several large Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, in recent days to protest the country's strict zero-Covid policy, which mean lockdowns and mass testing, among other measures.

The recent protests, highly unusual in the country of more than 1.4 billion inhabitants, were apparently triggered by anger about a deadly fire that broke out in a residential building in the regional capital of Xinjiang, Ürümqi, in which 10 people were killed at the weekend.

In response to the demonstrations, a massive police contingent was deployed that prevented people from taking to the streets again on Tuesday.

China shows no sign of veering from the zero-Covid policy

A person holding an umbrella with an "End Brutal Lockdowns" slogan on it takes part in a protest near the Chinese consulate in New York City.
A person holding an umbrella with an "End Brutal Lockdowns" slogan on it takes part in a protest near the Chinese consulate in New York City.  © REUTERS

While the commission didn't address the recent protests directly, the former editor-in-chief of state newspaper Global Times, Hu Xijin, read the statement as "a clear message of warning."

"The protesters must have understood it," he wrote on Twitter. "If they repeat those protests, the risks will increase severely."

The protests have been the biggest China has seen since pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing in 1989, which ended when they were bloodily suppressed by the military. There has also been a news blackout about the protests, and censors are removing references to them on Chinese social media.

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Health services have showed no sign of veering from the zero-Covid policy. However, a vaccination campaign has been accelerated, especially for older residents. That's a change from previous policy, which had seen fewer vaccinations for the elderly out of concerns of side effects from the jab.

Only about 40% of people aged 80 and up have received booster shots. That low level of vaccinations could mean a high death toll should the disease spread uncontrolled.

At the moment, about 100 million people, representing a fifth of the country's economy, are estimated to be in lockdown. That's weighing on industrial expectations. The purchasing managers' index fell to 48, from 49.2, in November, according to China's statistics authority. Any value under 50 indicates a higher likelihood of an economic contraction.

That said, the number of new daily infections recorded in China fell slightly on Wednesday, with only 37,600 new cases reported on Tuesday, down from 38,400 a day earlier. Recently, China hit 40,000 in one day, a record since the start of the pandemic.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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