China's Covid Protest Blame Game Fingers Foreign Powers

(MENAFN- Asia Times)

The Chinese government's Covid-19 task force has urged local governments to avoid overdoing their anti-epidemic measures, a laggard response to spiraling protests against the“zero-Covid” restrictions that are now testing national stability.

The instructions went out Tuesday after thousands of protesters rallied in key cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Wuhan to oppose the government's strict Covid rules. Video footage circulated on social media shows some protesters chanting slogans urging the Communist Chinese Party and China's President Xi Jinping to step down .

But just hours after lifting lockdown measures in Zhengzhou city where Apple iPhones are manufactured, authorities once again shut down hundreds of buildings, Bloomberg reported. China said late Tuesday it was lifting a lockdown of Zhengzhou put in place five days ago as cases surged, but then issued a lengthy list of buildings that would be declared high risk and would continue to be subject to curbs, various news reports said.

The calls to loosen came from the State Council's Comprehensive Team for Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism for Covid-19, which said local governments should minimize the impact of lockdowns on the public and follow the central government's guidelines on how to suppress the epidemic. 

The People's Daily, a party mouthpiece, said on Tuesday that it is necessary for China to maintain its Covid and quarantine rules since the global pandemic remains severe. It said China will continue its“four early” strategy, which refers to its efforts to identify Covid patients, isolate them, prevent the virus from spreading and cut off transmission chains as early as possible.

At the same time, Chinese columnists have launched a propaganda campaign calling on the public to trust the ruling Chinese Communist Party and government while urging them not to be used by foreign powers to undermine stability. They also criticized some Covid testing firms for providing fake data to local governments in a bid to get profitable mass test contracts.

Covid testing in Chengdu. Image: Screengrab / BBC News

Chinese protesters first emerged on the streets after 10 people died in a fire in a residential building in Urumqi in northwestern China's Xinjiang on November 24. The protesters accused the local government of having irregularly expanded its lockdown measures, which allegedly slowed fire and rescue services. The government denied the deaths were caused by the lockdowns.

To mourn the victims of the accident, people in other Chinese cities held protests by holding white papers signifying opposition to the country's zero-Covid rules. The BBC said Edward Lawrence, one of its journalists, was beaten up and arrested by the police when covering a local protest. He was released after several hours.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of China's foreign ministry, said the BBC journalist was arrested as he did not show his media pass. Zhao said foreign media must follow China's laws.

On Monday, a Chinese article with the title“Beware that foreign powers use epidemic rules to stir up trouble” was widely circulated by Chinese media. A Hebei-based writer said people should not allow themselves to be used by unnamed foreign powers to help spread negative news about China's anti-epidemic work.

He claimed China cannot further ease its Covid rules now due to its insufficient medical resources and large population, the high infectiousness of the coronavirus and the high costs of foreign-made mRNA Covid vaccines. He called on the public to stay calm and give more time for policymakers to solve the problems.

Another article with a similar headline said government departments need to take the initiative in dismissing rumors spread on social media.

The unnamed writer, also from Hebei, blamed some local officials for failing to implement the earlier 20-point notice, unveiled by the central government on November 11 to ease anti-epidemic rules. He said the notice had stated clearly that local governments should not lock down low-risk areas or block the exits of buildings but some of them failed to follow instructions.

The writer said netizens should not be influenced by unconfirmed news on the internet as a small group of local people might collude with foreign powers to direct public opinion.

He also said most people supported the country's lockdowns and mass testing schemes in the past three years but might have become disappointed by some testing firms that used fake data to obtain contracts and secure profits. 

The Comprehensive Team for Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism for Covid-19 held a media briefing on Tuesday but did not directly comment on the protests. Nor did it announce any plans to relax Covid rules further.

Mi Feng, a spokesperson of the National Health Commission, said the government was studying and adjusting its pandemic containment measures to“protect the people's interest to the largest extent and limit the impact on people as much as possible.”

Mi said local governments should respond to the reasonable demands of the public in a timely manner and accelerate their vaccination programs. He said elderly people should take the initiative in being inoculated, a move regarded by health experts as crucial to reopening.

Guo Yanhong, director of the National Health Commission's health emergency division, said local health departments had penalized some Covid-19 testing firms in Beijing, Hefei, Shijiazhuang, Xuchang and Inner Mongolia for unstated irregular and illegal activities so far this year.

Guo said the central government would strengthen its monitoring to prevent testing firms from using fake data to make profits.

Sima Nan, a high-profile nationalistic commentator, said in his latest articles that the Chinese people should blame local officials and testing firms but not the nation and the central government. 

Sima said people could give suggestions to the government but beware that some foreign powers might use rumors to direct public opinion and try to trigger so-called“color revolutions” in China, an unsubstantiated insinuation that Western intelligence agencies may seek to leverage or foment the unrest to undermine the CCP's hold on power.

Chinese people protesting against Covid restrictions in Beijing. Similar protests have spread across the country. Image: Screengrab / Skynews

Many other“patriotic” bloggers said Tuesday that some local conflicts, their term for the Covid protests, had been largely exaggerated by netizens. They said the nation's Covid rules were good policy but badly implemented in some cities.

They also said they believed that most Chinese people were patriotic and would not be used by overseas powers and those with ulterior motives to break the law and hurt China's overall interests.

Maxine Yao, a member of the Path of Democracy, a pro-Beijing think tank in Hong Kong, said some without providing details that Hong Kong-based“black-clad” activists had recently sneaked into Guangdong province and were trying to spark“color revolutions” in the mainland.

At the same time, Yao said some young foreign journalists were trying to spy on Chinese official departments and institutions. She said people should report these cases to the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force if detected. 

read: iphone city clashes reviving 'zero-covid' fears

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3


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