Xi Jinping’s covid background politics

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Born like the underground movement, the Chinese Communist Party prefers to move forward stealthily, revealing its intentions only once they are confident of success. True to his guerrilla roots, he is still more mysterious in his escape. When failures occur, an expert response can be expected. Party leaders fall silent, propaganda turns flag, statistics become even more reliable than usual and security is tightened. These evasive moves can be seen now, as China abandons its “people’s war” on covid.

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As Chaguan writes this, it has been more than a month since China heard new virus-fighting orders from its supreme leader, President Xi Jinping. In his last reported words on the subject, on November 10, Mr Xi told the Politburo to stick “firmly” to its costly containment strategy of “dynamic zero-covid”. Mr. Xi’s absence from the front lines is all the more surprising because in 2020, after China’s success in quelling an initial uprising in the city of Wuhan, the party declared itself the “leader of leader” of this people’s war. Proud of the efforts of the hundreds of millions of Chinese who stayed indoors to break the chains of virus transmission (and are happy to prove foreigners wrong), the official media announced the need the strong leadership of the Communist Party to defeat a fierce, invisible enemy like covid. Pandemic chaos in such democracies as America has been heralded as proof of Western decadence and callousness. In September 2020, speaking via video link from inside China’s closed borders, Mr. Xi told the United Nations General Assembly that “covid-19 is a major test of countries’ governance capacity.”

Several times this year, prominent scientists who called for a debate on exit strategies from zero-covid were accused of wanting to “lay flat”, using a slang term for defeat. Now China is suddenly learning to live with the virus. Various lines of propaganda messages are being tested to explain this, emphasizing the wisdom of the party and the Chinese people’s unique capacity for self-sacrifice and discipline. On December 12 the Daily People, party legend, on the framework of the hard zero-covid campaign as a time of waiting patiently for the severity of the Omicron variable to decline, and for vaccines and effective medicines to emerge. Unfortunately, the latest sub-variants, although of course milder than Delta, are still very capable of wreaking havoc in China, where only a minority are protected by new doses of effective vaccines.

Party centers have been referring to citizens earnestly pledging to stay at home if they are suffering from mild symptoms so as not to “cause trouble for the country”, and telling reporters, from after the Chinese government took care of them for the past three years, it was time for them. take primary responsibility for their own health and leave medical resources to those in need. After years of citing China’s low official death toll (currently at around 5,200), the Daily People move to vaguely boast about China having the lowest death toll of any major power. On December 14, as waves of covid swept the country, authorities stopped reporting only infections that were considered “asymptomatic”, a nebulous term sometimes used in China for any cases that have not been detected. confirmed by breast scan.

Censors have moved to prevent discussion of the policy change. In fact, pro-party nationalists have been silenced online for attacking zero-covid critics, including a parallel who organized protests in November in in cities and on university campuses across the country. Social media platforms have banned the term thank you, meaning “flat-flat mobs”, used by nationalists to criticize abuses that they blame for accelerating the abandonment of zero-covid with their demonstrations. Despite this evidence of official sensitivity to anti-lockdown protests, it is misleading to draw a short, straight line between the most striking demonstrations, such as one in Shanghai that saw young people chanting “Down with Xi Jinping” , and the ditch. of zero-covid policies. Although his execution is shockingly sudden, this is retirement months in the making. Omicron’s variants are spreading so fast that – as public health scholars tell him – only new waves of infections this autumn could be beaten back by nationwide lockdowns as hard as those imposed on 25m Shanghai residents for more than two months this spring. The economic costs would have been brutal, and the country was exhausted. The police and security services know how to stop students chanting political slogans: many of those at protests in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere have been found and detained or summoned by the police for warnings. But there was widespread discontent, uniting non-political types such as migrant workers fleeing factory outbreaks and homeowners rebelling against lockouts. – local lock.

When scientific debate is dishonest

The political stakes also changed after the 20th party congress in October, where Mr Xi won a third term and installed full loyalists on the Politburo Standing Committee. An essay published in April in Examination Periods, a magazine of the Central Party School, with Ma Xiaowei, the minister of health, condemning “erroneous” thoughts about “being with the virus”. Mr. Ma cast zero-covid as a political imperative needed to avoid deaths, maintain social stability and thus ensure a successful party conference. Re-reading those words, it is reasonable to ask whether scientific debate about “zero-covid”, or even calls for a vaccination drive, had to be kept quiet before the conference, in case ‘ s that there would be doubt about Mr. Xi’s faith in containment.

To be clear, current events are a blow to Mr. Xi. Even those persuasive propaganda lines urging citizens to take personal responsibility for their health sit uneasily with his view of fighting a pandemic as an opportunity to expand the party’s reach into every town and neighborhood, and to move the great people in a great effort together. The party has overcome routs before. Even now their leading ideologues talk about how they can withdraw as a victory, while censors and security services work to silence dissent. In the meantime, the Chinese people face a grim winter.

Read more from Chaguan, our China columnist:
The politics of death in China (December 8)
Lessons from a Chinese protest (December 1)
China’s slowdown hurts the youth (November 24)

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