At first there were only protests against the strict zero-Covid policy, but now the anger is directed at President Xi Jinping and his regime. But how serious are these riots, which are almost unprecedented in recent Chinese history? Perhaps they are the signs of a deeper crisis affecting the entire Eurasian space.

Demonstrations against Beijing’s zero-Covid policy have escalated over the past week, with people expressing frustration not only with the lockdown measures but also with the government and President Xi Jinping himself. This type of unrest is almost unprecedented in the modern Chinese era and is certainly a cause for concern for the ruling elite.

Since the pandemic began, Beijing has consistently attempted to contain the virus by imposing city-wide lockdowns that have restricted, if not banned, entry and exit and severely curtailed all activity.

Why the government took such strict measures is unclear. No other country imposed such a level of lockdown, largely because the cost of doing so was so high.

Shanghai, the country’s main financial center, was effectively shut down for weeks, with similar measures taking place in smaller cities. Not to mention that it is impossible to hermetically seal off large, densely populated and otherwise busy Chinese cities.

So there are only two possible explanations:

Hong Kong is instructive in this regard. It wasn’t long ago that China saw a rebellion there. The authorities cracked down on the protesters – but not before the world realized the deep anger many people have towards Beijing.

Hong Kong has taught mainland China three things: that open rioting is possible; that riots can spread and should therefore be concealed or downplayed at all costs; and that a country dependent on international trade and investment cannot afford a trial in the court of public opinion.

If a city like Shanghai had to be shut down, so be it. Financial operations had to take a backseat to widespread unrest, that was the reasoning.

If that was indeed the strategy, then it has failed over the past few days. The triggering event was a fire in a residential building that was not extinguished. As so often happens, public sentiment turned into a broader anti-government movement.

The dissidents’ slogans first focused on the loss of freedom from the lockdowns, before escalating into condemnations of the President and the Communist Party and calling for Xi Jinping to resign.

This in no way means that there were demonstrations everywhere, nor does it mean that the regime is threatened with overthrow. So far it is unclear whether it is predominantly a youth movement; if so, it would be far less consequential than a movement led by older, middle-class professionals.

It is also not clear how widespread and intense the protests are, how many cities are involved, how many protesters are calling for a new government, how organized they are, how much police and army intervention had to take place, etc.

It is important to remember that these protests did not erupt overnight. The Chinese economy has developed very poorly in recent years. As exports met resistance abroad, the economy became increasingly dependent on domestic consumption — and on domestic investment.

The transition was tough, as is usual for countries in this situation. It inevitably raises the question, especially among young people, of what life will be like in the future. After decades of explosive growth, the reversal in expectations can be dramatic.

But the bank protests in Henan province are one thing; open, general political anger is another. The call for an end to communist leadership is extraordinary and frankly difficult to take seriously, especially when it comes from anyone other than disaffected youth.

In other words, I won’t believe it until I see it. The government is almost certainly capable of crushing this would-be rebellion if it deems it necessary. It’s entirely possible that the government thinks the movement will die out on its own.

If this is the beginning of something bigger, China’s power becomes questionable from a broader geopolitical perspective. That this is happening at the same time that Russia’s power is in question and the EU is growing more uncertain about its common direction suggests that all of Eurasia is in crisis. This in turn means that the relative power of the United States is increasing dramatically.

The usual caveats apply, but it’s important to note that a whole new world could emerge if Russia doesn’t stabilize its position in Ukraine, if the EU doesn’t hold together as it needs to, and if the Chinese demonstrations become more than just a flash in the pan.

About the authors: George Friedman, 73, is one of the United States’ best-known geopolitical analysts. He directs the think tank Geopolitical Futures, which he founded, and is the author of numerous books.

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The original of this article “Behind China’s corona radicalism is a perfidious pretext” comes from Cicero Online.