Xi Jinping Backs Down From Zero COVID Protests
Xi Learns The Limits Of Totalitarian Rule
There is no other way to frame China’s recent easing of its Zero COVID policies: Xi Jinping was backed down by a protesting Chinese public.
How else can one interpret China’s abrupt decision to terminate its “Mobile Itinerary Card” trace tracking app as of yesterday?
China will abolish its Covid-19 trace tracking service, the “Mobile Itinerary card,” on Tuesday, officials say.
“Mobile Itinerary card inquiry channels such as text messages, web pages, WeChat extensions, Alipay extensions and app will go offline at the same time,” according to a statement from the country’s Academy of Information and Communications Technology.
This is no small easing of restrictions. The nature of the Mobile Itinerary Card service made it an highly intrusive constant surveillance system that quite literally tracked every place a person went.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has used the itinerary card system to track individuals’ travel histories over 14 days. The system is tied to people’s phone numbers and aims to identify individuals who have visited cities with any area designated a “high-risk zone” by authorities.
Xi Jinping has voluntarily agreed to spy on his own people less, all because of the Zero COVID protests.
Comments on Chinese social media indicate the average Chinese citizen is aware of the tectonic shift in China’s handling of COVID-19 cases.
Citizens have expressed relief but also concern about the sudden changes.
"Finally! I will no longer worry about getting infected or being taken away as a close contact," one person wrote on Chinese social media.
Another said: "Can anyone explain to me what's happening? Why is the change all of a sudden and so major?"
The reduction in surveillance is not the only major policy change. The infamous state quarantine facilities are also being put on the glide path to decommissioning, as home isolation is now the preferred quarantine approach under Beijing’s new rules.
People with Covid can now isolate at home rather than in state facilities if they have mild or no symptoms.
They also no longer need to show tests for most venues, and can travel more freely inside the country.
To appreciate the ramifications of these changes, in particular the reduction in surveillance and detention (err…”quarantine”) at state facilities, one must first realize that the Zero COVID protocols, in their entirety, were a complete and utter failure as a means of halting the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Lockdowns and societal repression were revealed as completely ineffective at stopping community spread of the virus from the earliest days of the pandemic. Lockdowns, readers will recall, were demonstrable failures as early as the spring of 2020.
Being completely ineffective as public health strategies, lockdowns and Zero COVID regimes could only be valuable to Xi Jinping and the CCP as modalities of societal control. Under the rubric of “public health”, Xi Jinping used Zero COVID to subject the Chinese people to levels of surveillance and detention even Orwell could not have fathomed.
Yesterday, Xi Jinping let a big piece of that surveillance and detention policy simply fall away, and in the immediate aftermath of the most significant public protests in China since Tienanmen Square.
The extent of Xi's surrender on Zero COVID was made plain when Beijing admitted it could no longer track COVID cases, particularly asymptomatic ones.
On Tuesday the national health commission (NHC) announced it would no longer report asymptomatic cases, which for most of the pandemic have been reported as a separate – and usually much larger – cohort.
“Many asymptomatic patients no longer participate in nucleic acid testing,” the NHC said. “It is impossible to accurately grasp the actual number of asymptomatic infections.”
The commission officially reported just 2,291 symptomatic cases across China on Tuesday, at odds with reports from residents and health services of rampant infections – particularly in the capital Beijing.
Vice-premier Sun Chunlan earlier said Beijing’s new infections were “rapidly growing”, according to state media.
Perversely, Xi Jinping’s decision to end or ease many of the draconian Zero COVID policies is proving to be a mixed blessing both for the CCP and for the Chinese people.
As luck would have it, Xi Jinping is ending the surveillance and easing COVID restrictions just as China is experiencing yet another wave of cases. In cities such as Wuhan, the impact has been as if Zero COVID had not been eased, as mandatory lockdown has been replaced by reluctance and fear to leave their homes.
This new jump in the number of Covid-19 infections has come as a fresh blow for many small businesses in China’s central city of Wuhan, where the Covid-19 pandemic started three years ago. Although the easing of most curbs under the stringent Zero Covid policy was welcomed by most businesses, the cheer has quickly dissipated.
With people reluctant to step out due to the new surge in Covid-19 cases, bussinesses and industries around China are grappling with a scarcity of customers that has left the country facing an economic downturn this year.
While many Chinese cheered their newly acquired freedoms as the restrictions were reversed, rising case counts have motivated many Chinese to remain in “lockdown mode” despite the formal ending of restrictions. The economic pain of Zero COVID is thus proving to live on past the ending of the policies.
With China’s economy already under duress from the ongoing crisis and collapse of its real estate sector, as well as the dropoff in global demand as the global economy contracts, the continuing economic reverberations from Zero COVID could not come at a worse time for China.
The economic woes are compounded by one the few areas where the Zero COVID policies were successful: three years of propagandizing the SARS-CoV-2 virus as deadly and dangerous have convinced the Chinese people that any sign or symptom of flu-like illness now warrants a visit to the nearest hospital.
Despite pleas from state media and health experts for people to self medicate and recover at home, many citizens — fearful of the virus after three years of propaganda that painted it as dangerous — are flocking to hospitals. Some facilities are struggling to find enough staff and others are suspending non-Covid treatments as health-care workers say they’re scrambling to meet demand for care following China’s Covid Zero reversal.
China’s already insufficient healthcare infrastructure is, in the wake of Zero COVID’s ending, being inundated with patient visits and calls, with people lining up at hospitals across Beijing, and delivery services everywhere being disrupted as drivers and couriers call in sick with COVID.
Moreover, many hospitals are struggling as this latest COVID wave moves through their staffs of doctors and nurses.
Doctors and nurses in at least one Beijing hospital have been asked to keep reporting for duty even if they’ve caught Covid, if their symptoms are mild, said a medical worker, while healthcare staff in another hospital in the city’s downtown area have been summoned back to work from holiday, according to another. The workers asked not to be identified as they’re not authorized to speak publicly.
Hospitals in Guangzhou and Wuhan, among other cities, are reporting as many as 20% of staff are ill with COVID, creating severe staffing shortages in multiple cities.
One reported consequence that will have lasting impacts even beyond this latest COVID wave—overstressed hospitals are apparently canceling or postponing non-COVID treatments and procedures, which will only negatively impact the overall health of the Chinese people over the longer term.
How deep the impact of Xi’s timing on easing Zero COVID will depend largely on how severe this new COVID wave is, and how long it lasts. There are already signs in the reported case data that the wave is already receding.
However, the decline must be taken with a grain of salt, as on-the-ground observations suggest that once again China is fudging its official COVID numbers.
Despite the official numbers suggesting the caseload had halved, Raymond Yeung, China economist at ANZ bank, said that on-the-ground observations indicated some cities, including Baoding, in the northern province of Hebei, already had “high infection numbers”. More big cities, he said, would soon endure similar levels of infections.
“Like Hong Kong, the actual infection data will no longer be informative. As the ‘official’ infection figures decline, the government can eventually claim their success against the virus,” Yeung said.
The reporting situation is comparable to 2020, when China routinely undercounted and misreported case counts, particularly in Wuhan.
Yet even without accurate case counts, and regardless of whether there is an actual COVID wave in China or merely the fear of one, the fear factor—stoked by three years of CCP propaganda—will continue to drive the behavior of ordinary Chinese citizens for some time to come. Xi Jinping can end the Zero COVID policy, but he cannot end the Zero COVID behaviors the policy made habitual.
The lingering fear factor likely will mean that China might as well be in the throes of a major COVID wave, for large segments of the Chinese people are already accustomed to acting as if they are. The lockdowns may have ended, but the Chinese people will take time to embrace that change.
Thus does Zero COVID come to represent the limits of even Xi Jinping’s totalitarian rule. Zero COVID was never able to stop the virus from virusing, as was proven through wave after wave of COVID infections and Zero COVID lockdowns, none of which ever stopped the virus. When Zero COVID finally pushed a segment of the Chinese people past their breaking point, Xi Jinping blinked and ultimately surrendered to the protesters, going from superficial easings to jettisoning the core of Zero COVID in a matter of days. Yet now that Zero COVID has been largely ended, Xi will have to contend with the reality of those segments of the Chinese people acclimated to the Zero COVID restrictions resisting any “return to normal.”
Xi might command, but neither the virus nor the Chinese people are certain to obey. Zero COVID has exposed for all the world—and especially for the Chinese people—that the totalitarian rule of Xi Jinping and the CCP is ultimately an empty fiction. When the people in one voice say “No!”, the autocrat is invariably undone.
Last week, the Chinese people in one voice said “No!”, and Xi was undone. He will not soon be able to reclaim the aura of total control, if ever.