China: Expert discusses Xi Jinping's internal policing
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Xi Jinping has come under growing pressure after the Chinese leader refused to adopt a more efficient vaccine against Covid-19. China’s Communist Party has faced an unprecedented wave of popular demonstrations against Beijing’s strict Covid policies, with angry protests erupting across the country. US Intelligence believes tensions could boil over if Xi’s regime fails to make the right calls in the next few months.
Speaking at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines added the spread of protests were the latest sign that China is on the back foot.
“How it develops will be important to Xi’s standing,” she said. But it’s “not something we see as being a threat to stability at this moment, or regime change or anything like that,” she added.
After three years of draconian measures to stem the spread of Covid-19, several Chinese cities have finally conceded to the protesters’ demands and started easing Covid rules.
Shenzhen, in southeastern China, is lifting a requirement for a negative Covid test to use public transport or enter parks. Meanwhile, China’s Capital Beijing dropped its demand for a negative test to enter supermarkets.
However, Ms Haines believes Xi Jinping could face more Covid-19 outbreaks, as Omicron subvariants escape China’s Sinopharm vaccine.
Turmoil in China was partly due to the the fact that Xi “is unwilling to take a better vaccine from the West, and is instead relying on a vaccine in China that’s just not nearly as effective against [the] Omicron”, she said.
According to World Health Organisation trials, two doses of Sinophram only have an efficacy of 79 percent compared to 95 percent for Pfizer/BioNTech.
The White House had previously criticised the policy, saying: “We think it’s going to be very difficult for the People’s Republic of China to be able to contain this virus through their net-Zero stategy.”
The demonstrations were reportedly sparked by a deadly fire on November 24 in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang. The blaze killed at least 10 people and injured nine in an apartment building – leading to public fury after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures had delayed firefighters from reaching the victims.
Distressing videos of the scene, captured by neighbours, show a Chinese girl trying to escape the fire by holding onto the window ledge above her with her left hand. As smoke darkenened and enveloped her, she ended up losing balance and falling down her 30-storey building.
The outpouring of anger consumed Chinese social media where people demanded justice for the victims and that the government drop zero-Covid, which has slowed down the economy and upended millions of people’s lives.
Taisu Zhang, a professor at Yale Law School, wrote on social media: “If you’ve been following Chinese politics for long enough, you have to wonder whether the anti-lockdown protests are getting near the point where serious top-down nationwide crackdown becomes pretty much inevitable.”
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Protesters chanted words that were previously unimaginable. “Communist Party,” one shouted. “Step down,” the rest of the group responded. “Xi Jinping,” another one called. “Step down,” emboldened demonstrators shouted back.
Xi Jinping has so far played up the narrative that the stringent Covid rules have helped save lives while millions have perished in countries like the US.
But the policy a taken major toll on the economy and caused widespread public misery, such as food shortages and fatal medical delays, frustrations that sparked huge protests across major cities less than 10 days ago.
EU and US politicians have offered Western-manufactured vaccines to be used in China, but so far “we have not received any requests or any interest by China to receive our vaccines,” a White House official said.
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