Follow Us:

Anger grows

The protests are exceptional because defiance of state authority is rare in China. They are now widespread, for even the filtered flow of information out of the country suggests that thousands may have taken to the streets in cities as far apart as Urumqi, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Nanjing, and Beijing to voice their anger.

Statesman News Service |

The rising wave of protests in different Chinese cities against harsh Covid prevention measures may not have reached a stage where the state is losing control of the situation, but they have put a large question mark on when the country’s economy will recover.

The protests are exceptional because defiance of state authority is rare in China. They are now widespread, for even the filtered flow of information out of the country suggests that thousands may have taken to the streets in cities as far apart as Urumqi, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Nanjing, and Beijing to voice their anger. In Urumqi, the capital of the restive Xinjiang province, the protests acquired a sharp edge because it was believed that efforts to rescue people trapped in a building that caught fire were hampered by Covid prevention measures.

Authorities have denied that the main door of the building that caught fire had been locked to prevent residents from stepping out, but it is almost certain that vehicles that refused to start after having been parked for weeks delayed fire engines. At least 10 people died in the blaze, and people reacted with anger. Some parts of the province have been under lockdown for more than 100 days.

The scale of civil disobedience is without precedent in recent times and has engulfed university campuses in Beijing, Nanjing, and other cities. Holding sheets of blank white paper in a country that criminalises dissent, the protestors want a relaxation of Covid measures.

There have been clashes between protestors and security forces at several places, most notably at the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, where Apple phones are manufactured.

The revolt by workers followed mass departures from the plant last month and is learned to have severely hampered production at the Taiwanese contract manufacturing company. But fewer iPhones reaching the market may be the least of China’s worries. The continued restrictions, and China’s stubborn refusal to back down from the zero-Covid policy enunciated by President Xi Jinping, analysts fear, would mean an even slower recovery for the world’s second-largest economy.

Analysts say that even if China relaxes its zero Covid policy, the low level of vaccination among its elderly, who seem to suspect the efficacy of Chinese vaccines, will ensure the exit is both slow and disorderly.

Asian markets have shown a degree of panic in reacting to news of the troubles in China, and the yuan has lost ground to the US dollar. China will also be concerned at the increasing internationalisation of its messy Covid management, with protests now being reported outside Chinese embassies in several parts of the world and the United Nations Human Rights Office asking Beijing not to detain people for participating in peaceful protests.

“We call on the authorities to respond to protests in line with international human rights laws and standards,” the UN said. While China routinely brushes aside such criticism, this time it may find the waves of anger difficult to subdue. But of course, President Xi, voted recently to a third term in office, cannot be wrong, even if he