China’s abandonment of its strict corona measures suggests a weakened ruler. On the streets, demonstrators even chanted “Down with the CCP”, “Down with Xi Jinping”. Fear is rampant in Chinese nomenklatura.
In response to the protests in the country, the Communist leadership has made a 180-degree turn and massively relaxed, not to say lifted, Covid measures throughout the People’s Republic. The Chinese leadership is thus implicitly admitting that the measures were not necessary per se.
Since leader Xi Jinping had linked his fate with the “zero Covid” measures, the events in China do not allow any other conclusion than that the ruler has been weakened, who had himself proclaimed president for a third time in mid-October. This seizure of power, which is not actually foreseen even in the political fabric of totalitarian China, has led many observers to assume that Xi is at the zenith of his power. But then came the protests.
To classify them: There are constant protests in China, small ones that focus on local excitement and grievances. While they are not permitted, they are accepted to a certain, low degree. Protest that breaks ground on the Internet is usually stopped by the censors after a very short time. To circumvent this censorship, people have to be creative, come up with synonyms or abbreviations.
What has not existed since 1989, however, were such cries on the streets: “Down with the KP”, “Down with Xi Jinping”. The mighty Xi suddenly didn’t seem so powerful anymore. The reactions to the protests also put Xi’s alleged omnipotence in a different light.
Red Alert: How China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific is leading to a global war
Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian is currently working on a project on “digital cosmopolitanism” at the Internet Institute at Oxford University and the Faculty of Philosophy at New York University.
Alexander Görlach was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in the USA and Cambridge University in England. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. He has recently published the following titles: “Red Alert: Why China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy in the Western Pacific Is Leading to a Global War” (Hoffmann
From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Berlin.
At the party’s jubilee event in October, Xi summoned yes-men and no-nos to the Politburo. His predecessor Hu Jintao, who started rioting in front of the world in the Great Hall in Beijing at the sight of the final list, was dumped with publicity.
It is therefore astonishing that Xi’s “zero Covid” policy has been cleared so quickly all over the country. Surely this is better than sending in the army and massacring thousands of peaceful demonstrators like in 1989.
The comparatively level-headed reaction (the state is currently trying to locate and punish the demonstrators) could also reveal that this time there are not enough cadres who would be willing to commit such a crime in Xi’s name. Because he is certainly not squeamish and in no way concerned about human rights, which is proven by the daily dealings with the downtrodden Uyghur minority. The list of Xi’s human rights violations is long.
A fire in the Uyghur province of Xinjiang that killed ten people locked in a house due to Covid regulations has sparked protests in the country. An unexpected expression of solidarity with the people of Xinjiang that the party had not foreseen.
Xi’s nomenklatura has done everything in recent years to brand the Muslims there as terrorists and a danger who must be “sinicized”, i.e. culturally transformed and turned into Chinese. More colonialism and imperialism are no longer possible. The United Nations speak of crimes against humanity, the parliaments of the USA and the Netherlands call Xi’s crime a genocide.
So it is not philanthropy that has forced the leadership to give in, but rather panic and fear of revolt. Beijing blamed abuses at local level for the strict interpretation of the corona measures. There were excesses.
Dictatorships like to use such tricks (“If only the leader knew!”). Even if in individual cases there may have been gross mistakes due to incompetence, the local level is treated to orders by Beijing’s central apparatus that cannot be fulfilled because their targets contradict each other: On the one hand, the municipalities are supposed to Contain cases and at the same time stimulate the economy on the other side. The two don’t go together.
In addition, the municipalities finance a significant part of their work through land sales. However, these collapsed last year because the Chinese real estate bubble burst. That was also one of the reasons for the many protests that have taken place in China since May: people have lost their savings, especially the middle class.
In addition, it is the children of this middle class who are demonstrating now because they are leaving university and cannot find a job. China’s boom years are over and this is due to Xi’s political about-face towards a new state Marxism that is no longer compatible with the opening up of the country that his predecessors pushed for. The fact that productivity in China has not increased since Xi took office shows that you cannot do business innovatively and creatively in dictatorships.
As a result, further protests are smoldering in China, even if some cadres may now feel safe because the harshest corona measures, which were actually possible patronage of millions of people, are no longer maintained. Perfidious enough that the party insisted that the operating life of the corona detention centers, to which people were taken if they were infected, was set at five years by investors.
As is the case with prisons in the USA, the Chinese government relied on private financiers to deal with the pandemic, which of course do not have public interests, the rehabilitation of prisoners or the eradication of a pandemic as their goal, but pure profit maximization. These investors are now losing their money, which will have a negative impact on the already struggling economy.
The youth have nothing to lose at the moment. “Give me freedom or bring me death,” they shouted during the demonstrations. The students were locked into their campus for months. That was also part of the Covid measures.
In order to stop the protest on the university campuses, the students were now allowed to travel home for the first time. But as long as nothing changes in the fundamental economic problems that Xi Jinping has ridden China into, the danger of further massive protests hangs like a sword of Damocles over Xi and his nomenklatura: “Down with the CP”, “Down with Xi Jinping.”
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