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A massive show of force by China’s police for anti-lockdown protesters, silence from Xi Jinping

The commission’s statement, released after an extended session on Monday chaired by Chen Wenqing, a member of the party’s 24-member Politburo, said the meeting was to discuss the results of October’s 20th Party Congress.

At that event, Xi awarded himself a third five-year term as secretary-general, potentially making him China’s leader for life, while stacking key organs with loyalists and knocking out votes against.

A protester chants slogans against China’s strict zero-COVID measures on Sunday night in Beijing.Credit:Getty

“The meeting stressed that political and legal bodies must take effective measures to … resolutely ensure national security and social stability,” the statement said.

“We must act decisively against infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces in accordance with the law, act decisively against illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order, and effectively maintain overall social stability,” it said.

But less than a month after seemingly securing his political future and unparalleled dominance, Xi, who has indicated he favors regime stability above all else, faces his biggest public challenge yet.

Police Detained A Protester On A Street In Shanghai On Sunday.

Police detained a protester on a street in Shanghai on Sunday.Credit:AP

He and the party have yet to directly address unrest, which has spread to university campuses and the semi-autonomous southern city of Hong Kong, as well as sympathy protests abroad.

Most protesters focused their anger on the “zero COVID” policy that has quarantined millions of people, restricted their access to food and medicine, devastated the economy and severely restricted travel.

Many scoffed at the government’s ever-changing reasoning, also claiming that “hostile foreign forces” sparked the wave of anger.

But stronger voices called for more freedom and democracy and called for Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, and the party he leads, to step down – speech seen as subversive and carrying long prison terms. Some held up blank sheets of white paper to demonstrate their lack of freedom of expression.

Police Officers Stand Guard During A Protest In Shanghai On Sunday Night.

Police officers stand guard during a protest in Shanghai on Sunday night.Credit:Bloomberg

The weekend protests were sparked by anger over the deaths of at least 10 people in a fire on Nov. 24 in China’s far west, which sparked angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were being blocked by antivirus checks.

Authorities relaxed some controls and announced a new push to vaccinate vulnerable groups after the demonstrations, but insisted they would adhere to the “zero-COVID” strategy.

The party had already pledged to ease disruptions last month, but a spike in infections quickly put party cadres under intense pressure to tighten controls to prevent outbreaks. The National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 37,612 cases detected in the past 24 hours, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,233.

Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students protested over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and southern Guangdong province sent students home in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism, including the Tiananmen protests.

The police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid encouraging others by drawing attention to the scale of the protests. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were removed by the party’s massive online censorship apparatus.

“Zero COVID” has helped keep the number of cases below that of the United States and other major countries, but global health experts, including the head of the World Health Organization, are increasingly saying it is unsustainable. China dismissed the comments as irresponsible.

Beijing needs to make its approach “very focused” on mitigating economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

However, economists and health experts warn that Beijing cannot relax the controls on most travelers from China until tens of millions of elderly people are vaccinated. They say this means “zero COVID” may not end for another year.

U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said Wednesday that the restrictions, among other things, make it impossible for U.S. diplomats to meet with U.S. prisoners being held in China, as mandated by an international treaty. Due to a lack of commercial airline routes into the country, the embassy must use monthly charter flights to move in and out of its staff.

“COVID truly dominates every aspect of life” in China, he said in an online discussion with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

On the protests, Burns said the embassy was observing their progress and the government’s response, but said, “We believe the Chinese people have a right to protest peacefully.”

“They have the right to express their opinion. They have the right to be heard. That is a fundamental right all over the world. It should be. And that right should not be hindered, and it should not be hindered,” he said.

No Comment From Xi Jinping.

No comment from Xi Jinping.Credit:AP

Burns also referred to instances of Chinese police harassing and detaining foreign reporters covering the protests.

“We support both freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” he said.

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Dozens of demonstrators took to the streets in Tokyo on Wednesday to support the Chinese demonstrations. Dozens of them, mostly Chinese, carried placards in Japanese, Chinese and English that read “Xi Jinping Resigns” and “Crush the Communist Party”.

Asked about the foreign statements of support for the protesters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended his country’s COVID-19 measures and said other countries should mind their own business.

“We hope that they will first heed the voices and interests of their own people instead of pointing the finger at others,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

AP

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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