With China’s biggest political event right around the corner, Xi’s regime has preparations happening in full swing for a powerful comeback at the 20th Party Congress, to be held in November, 2022.The primary motive of the paramount leader is to cement his presidential claim for an enviable 3rdconsecutive term in office, and domestic stability is crucial for the administration at this precarious point in time.But trouble in paradise continues to brew with a record-breaking number of civilian protests occurring across the motherland.
Xi Jinping’s rise to powerhas been built on the backs ofinfringing on his citizen’s rights— using undemocratic means to serve his goals has been a recurring theme for the president.The COVID-19 pandemic has only served as another opportunity for the Xi-led administration to impose unnecessarily oppressive measures on the population in the name of “safety measures” against the virus, allowing the state sources to punch out arguably small numbers of covid cases found in the country as evidence of the policy’s success.
China has faced its deadliest wave of COVID-19shortly before the Chinese Communist Party’s meetup expected to be held in November, making Xi’s controversial “Zero-COVID policy” a critical point of discussion, both at home and around the globe. Beijing hasadopted a hard-line policy to combat the rising cases of the virus, which largely impinges on people’s rights, with regular testing, arbitrary lockdowns to restrict spread and mass incarcerations in quarantine centres becoming the norm.
Cities and provinces were put under extended lockdowns this year in an attempt to curb the rapid spread of the virus. While the government was busy telling the world of its apparent success in managing the health crisis, videos posted online of Shanghai residents screaming from their balconies due to the COVID lockdown revealed the truth behind Beijing’s carefully crafted lies.
Discontentment and outrage have been brewing amongst the Chinese population for months now, which has often erupted in protests and demonstrations. This year alone saw a notable rise in the number of civilian demonstrations, more than 430, which wasoften followed by an authoritarian response. The state’s intervention in the past, more often than not,has led to peaceful protests taking violent turns, as the protestors are ruthlessly subdued by the authorities.
Public protests are no surprise in China at the given time, with a major economic crisis looming over the head of the second-largest economy, and unemployment rates remaining high on average- 5.4% in July, with rates of youth unemployment hitting 19.9%.
A guild of entrepreneurs in Shanghai put out an open letter in May,demanding fair treatment from the CCP, and for political reform to be initiated at the 20th Party Congress being held this year. The letter also outlined the threat of Xi’s leadership losing public confidence on a mass scale if changes weren’t implemented.
Part of the letter also called out the supreme authority for its draconian laws under the zero-COVID policy, asking officials to be punished for “violating the law and disregarding public opinion”.
A recent college graduate residing in Henan reported an enthusiasm in the people to fight for their rights. He reported expecting mass-scale public uprisings against the CCP in the coming years, owing to the zero-COVID measures and the mandate of forced vaccinations. The man was of the opinion that Xi has already been moving backwards when it comes to the freedom of expression, so criticism of the government and its policies would only be subjected to worse suppression.
Xi, since the 19th Party Congress in 2017, has flouted many ‘norms’ set-in place for smooth working of the ruling party, and for easy succession practices of next-in-line premiers. With ambitions running higher than both of his predecessors, Xi has strategically laid out stepping stones throughout his term to take him to the unconventional third-term in office as supreme leader.
In 2017, Xi had made clear in his work report at the Party Congress that “Government, the military, society and schools, north, south, east and west- the party leads them all”. As the general secretary of the CCP, Xi has pulled all strings to amass all political power in his own hands.
Furthermore, the zero-COVID policy has also played a large role for Xi to be able to test the political loyalty of his party workers, even as the policy faces tremendous internal resistance.
The state wastes no time in meeting the citizen’s protests with brutal and violent force to quash all opposition. With the tight control that the CCP holds over the media, Beijing is able to keep the bubbling unrest within the country under wraps, even as millions of lives are crushed by subsequent COVID lockdowns, and many seek to leave the country for good.
In the face of the upcoming Party Congress, Xi has been attempting to put forward a steel front with no blemishes in the façade of his supreme leadership. On the contrary, the number of people fleeing the country and seeking asylum elsewhere have increased at an alarming rate sine Xi took over the reins.
The impracticality of China’s response to the pandemic and the spreading virus has impacted all sections of society, with different social groups strongly voicing their critical issues.
The policy has brought on protests by students at prestigious universities, reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Students at the Peking University protested the inhuman terms of the lockdown while on campus, with even food services having been halted in May, while students at Tianjin also protested the local administration amidst lockdown; the Beijing Institute of Technology saw its students and staff alike staging a demonstration on campus against the oppressive COVID policy.
The state’s far-reaching control over the media and major global media-houses manages to keep these perpetually growing protests out of mainstream reporting.However, with the changing times, people are able to get the reality of the country out to the world through the means of social media, despite the authorities’ best efforts.
Beijing has also seen massive protests against the directives regarding the COVID-19vaccine. With Xi’s strategy of shielding the population from getting exposed to the virus- the lockdown measures took precedence, leaving the country’s most vulnerable section- those 80 and over, largely unvaccinated.
On the other hand, thousands of children who received the inoculation against the virus have consequently developed diabetes, while many have also contracted leukaemia- largescale protests by parents and children were held in July against these tragic oversights at the hands of the state.
The economy of the country has suffered a massive hit with the way Beijing has chosen to handle the pandemic; the two-month lockdown in Shanghai brought the economy to a grinding halt. The government, at the end of July, made a proud announcement that the state was choosing its zero-COVID policy over the country’s economic growth. Beijing has deserted its economic growth target of 5.5% which had been proclaimed at the Politburo meeting in April. The statement of the Politburo from the latest meetingsaid that “strict control and prevention measures must be applied whenever there is [a COVID] outbreak”, implying that drastic measures would continue to be implemented even when just a handful of cases are discovered.
The populations internalized terror of these measures such as business closures, regular mass-testing and snap lockdowns is evident from the recent incident in Shanghai. An Ikea outlet saw shoppers fighting to flee from the store, fearing a snap lockdown when a potential covid case was traced to the store.
Such public outcry and fear have become a regular occurrence for the Middle Kingdom, as its citizens expect the state to mercilessly crush them at any given second, paying absolutely no heed to the conditions of the people. The only thing the ruling party has done in this tumultuous political climate and internal unrest, is to hush up the voice of the people to promotethe farcical idea of total control and successful management of the biggest crisis the government has undertaken yet.