China warns ‘covid zero’ protesters of harsh crackdown

By | November 30, 2022

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Chinese authorities warned of a sweeping crackdown on “covid zero” protesters, and security forces carried out street checks in major cities, amid widespread confusion over whether Beijing was making a serious attempt to relax its toughest measures against the virus. coronavirus.

Communist Party leaders, who have otherwise avoided directly mentioning mass rallies in defiance of their zero-COVID policy, said for the first time they would “resolutely crack down” on demonstrations.

Chen Wenqing, a former intelligence official who is head of the Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs, the Communist Party’s top decision-making body for law enforcement policy, said on Tuesday that authorities would act against ” infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces, as well as on illegal or criminal acts that disturb the social order”.

Protests against China’s “covid zero” policy spread to cities across the country on November 27. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Protests in major cities began last week after a deadly wildfire in northwest Xinjiang. Many Chinese feel the tragedy was made worse because rescuers were slowed down by distancing measures; local authorities deny the allegations. But three years of living with draconian lockdowns, mass testing and the risk of being sent to spartan, centralized quarantine facilities pushed many over the edge, triggering extremely rare nationwide demonstrations that occasionally called for the Communist Party to be expelled.

Chen’s warning, along with the arrest of suspected protesters and a heightened police presence in major cities, came as demonstrations broke down on Monday and Tuesday.

A notable exception seemed to occur in the southern economic center of Guangzhou. A video that circulated widely on social media on Wednesday showed a group of protesters throwing what appeared to be glass bottles at security officers dressed in protective clothing and holding shields. Storyful, which verifies online content for news organizations around the world, said the clip was filmed on Tuesday in Guangzhou. Tweets accompanying the video said it was filmed in Haizhu, a district that has been the center of the city’s latest virus outbreak.

Protesters in Guangzhou, China, clashed with police on November 29 over frustration with China’s “zero covid” restrictions. (Video: Washington Post)

Two people in Shanghai told The Washington Post that their colleagues and loved ones were questioned by police earlier this week after joining weekend protests against the zero covid policy, which also served as a vigil for the 10 people who died. in the fire of Xinjiang.

One protester was held incommunicado for 24 hours, Monday through Tuesday, as family members and colleagues frantically searched for him. He was released from a police station earlier on Tuesday, said a co-worker, also named Chen, who attended the protests with him.

With record cases of covid, China struggles to fill immunity gap

Yang, a 27-year-old who attended a weekend rally in the resort town of Dali, where people marched in the downtown streets and sang the protest anthem “The Internationale”, said he was visited by police at home. Three of his friends, students at a local university, were instructed by their school to provide written accounts of their activities under threat of expulsion.

“For me it was just a verbal warning from the police,” he said. “I told them that I am a true patriot and I did everything just because I wanted my country to get better.”

People spoke to The Post on the condition that only their last names were used for fear of reprisals.

In Beijing and Shanghai, police checked the phones of people near protest sites for the messaging app Telegram and virtual private networks, according to a WeChat post on Wednesday by Qu Weiguo, a professor of English at the University of Beijing. Fudan in Shanghai. Protesters used these internet services to avoid censors and bypass China’s “Great Firewall”. Qu’s post appears to have been removed by censors within an hour of posting.

China tightened its already strict censorship regime after a major Communist Party meeting last month. According to the regulations that come into effect on December 15th, users who reposting or simply liking a post that authorities deem harmful could face penalties such as account suspension, although it’s unclear how this would be implemented. Access to super apps like WeChat, which have functions beyond social networks, is seen as essential for urban daily life in China.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a news conference on Tuesday that Chinese citizens “have the right to protest peacefully without fear.”

Asked by a reporter whether the United States planned to use tools to help Chinese Internet users bypass the Great Firewall, Jean-Pierre said she had no new information.

Chinese nationalist commentators have suggested, without providing evidence, that Western governments orchestrated the recent rallies. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday criticized the BBC for its coverage of China, asking whether “is it the job of BBC journalists to report news or to fabricate news?”

The broadcaster said Chinese authorities had beaten and briefly detained one of its journalists, who was reporting on a protest on Sunday.

For many Chinese, mixed messages about coronavirus control measures have added to the confusion. The Communist Party recently said it would seek to ease the burden of coronavirus measures on everyday life, though it did not offer a roadmap, and local authorities are still under pressure to curb widespread transmission of the virus.

See what brought protesters to a breaking point over China’s ‘covid zero’ policy

The Zhengzhou production hub, which is home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, announced on Tuesday that it would lift the lockdown. Hours later, however, it published a list of 1,531 high-risk residential complexes that would still be under strict restrictions. The local government has only listed 15 low-risk compounds across the city.

And while the southwestern city of Chengdu has canceled construction of a 10,000-bed centralized quarantine facility, the eastern province of Shandong is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build temporary hospitals and quarantine facilities that can house more than 200,000 people. , Chinese financial publication Caijing reported on Tuesday.

The Shanghai Disney Resort, which has been closed multiple times this year, said it would temporarily close again on Tuesday – just four days after reopening on Nov. 25.

Reports in state media, however, have raised hope that China may soon change its approach to the pandemic. Zhejiang Province’s propaganda bureau published a widely circulated article that urged local governments to focus on containing the virus rather than containing residents. The Beijing News, a newspaper run by the government, published interviews with a dozen people who recovered from covid-19, in a possible sign that the authorities are trying to normalize the disease.

And authorities in Haizhu, the Guangzhou district where clashes appear to have broken out on Tuesday night, said they would allow businesses to reopen and loosen some controls that have kept residents trapped in their homes for weeks. Other city districts also canceled mass testing and partially lifted lockdown measures on Wednesday, allowing public transport and catering services to resume.

The haphazard way the authorities have handled the pandemic this year has been a major drag on the Chinese economy. Manufacturing activity contracted further in November, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. More restaurants closed in the first half of 2022 than in all of 2021, according to Qichacha, a Chinese business data provider.

“When I saw the young people chanting slogans that night, I was moved,” said Xu, who owns a restaurant in the central city of Changsha, who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his last name. “It just occurred to me that my house is failing not because I didn’t work hard enough. No one will come here if the controls continue.”

Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.

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