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China's Zero COVID Mess Is Getting Messier
When Protesters Start Pushing For Regime Change, That's Not A Good Sign.
The Chinese Communist Party is getting drawn into a very thorny dilemma.
For most of the decades since Tienanmen Square, Chinese protests have evaded significant sanction by Beijing by focusing their energies on local officials and corrupt local governments (but I repeat myself).
Not any more.
There are reports—and social media posts—showing protesters calling for the unseating of the CCP and the unseating of Xi Jinping.
Protests erupted in Shanghai and on university campuses across the country over the weekend, with crowds calling for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its top leader to step down, in a display of public dissent that the country hasn’t seen in decades.
Put simply, this does not happen in China.
Rather, it did not used to happen—it is happening now.
Even more worrisome for Beijing is that not only are protests spreading within Beijing, especially among university students, but the protests have apparently spread to Shanghai.
People who presumably are seasoned China watchers are saying this has not happened in recent memory.
Outside of the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, that does appear to have been the case.
While the extent of the anti-regime sloganeering is far from certain at this time (this is very much an unfolding situation and by the time this article is published the facts on the ground almost certainly will have changed), that they are being uttered at all appears to be quite the shock to many Chinese.
At the same time, there remains a probability that the anti-regime protesters are still a very small minority of the protesters.
Obviously, I have absolutely no direct means to confirm any of this, and any assessment of what is currently transpiring must be grounded heavily in the realization that the situation is highly fluid. Any predictions at this point are mere guesses, and not even educated ones.
Still, the fact that the protests are spreading itself creates a problem for Beijing. With protests confirmed in Shanghai, Beijing, and Urumqi, and unconfirmed reports of protests in Nanjing and even Wuhan, this protest is quickly becoming a national movement—something that makes the CCP particularly twitchy (which doesn’t want to lose that very important “Mandate of Heaven” in the eyes of the Chinese people).
Demonstrations occurred throughout the weekend in Beijing, Shanghai and the eastern city of Nanjing, according to witness accounts. Video footage and photos circulating on social media, which The Wall Street Journal wasn’t able to independently verify, suggest protests broke out in several other cities, including Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic.
Even without the regime change slogans, just the reality of the Chinese people putting nationwide pressure on the CCP to end Zero COVID creates a serious crisis of face for Xi Jinping and the Standing Committee. Their political images—and thus their political fortunes—are at this point almost inextricably tied to the maintenance of the Zero COVID policy. Without getting the protests to die down, there is no way to put a decent interval between the protests and any “discovery” that Zero COVID has been a stellar success and is now no longer necessary.
An announcement like that right now would be a complete humiliation for Xi Jinping.
And to make matters worse, the protesters are not in one location like they were in 1989. As brutal as the Tienanmen Massacre was, it was disturbingly simple: send tanks into Tienanmen Square, shoot or squash anyone who doesn’t turn tail and run.
That strategy today would involve tanks in multiple locations in Beijing and Shanghai, and potentially Nanjing and Wuhan—all under the full gaze of worldwide social media (which as we can see still finds a way to get around the Great Firewall Of China).
Unless Xi Jinping wants to joing Vladimir Putin in genocidal infamy, he’s very much between the Zero COVID rock and the anti-Zero COVID protest hard place.
No, I don’t have any sympathy for him. He authored this monstrosity. It is only fitting he be hoisted by its petard.
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