NewsAsiaProtests against coronavirus restrictions in China, an unprecedented challenge for Xi Jinping

Protests against coronavirus restrictions in China, an unprecedented challenge for Xi Jinping

File image of the protests against the Chinese government. – Europa Press/Contact/Liau Chung-ren

MADRID, November 28 (EUROPA PRESS) –

The demonstrations registered throughout the weekend in more than a dozen cities in China have become an unprecedented challenge for the president of the Asian giant, Xi Jinping, who now sees his strict policy of restrictions and confinements in danger to end with the coronavirus.

From Shanghai to Beijing, thousands of people have decided to take to the streets to firmly show their clear opposition to the measures taken by the Government, harshly criticized for subjecting the population to the well-known policy to eradicate the virus.

The problems caused by the establishment of these regulations, which have led to the inaction of the authorities in emergency situations, have exploded an already extremely tense situation in a country where large-scale protests are unusual.

The population is now demanding more freedoms and has even gone so far as to ask Xi to relinquish power after almost three years of mass testing, harsh confinements and mandatory quarantines that imply an economic and humanitarian cost.

Mario Esteban, principal researcher for Asia-Pacific at the Elcano Royal Institute, has indicated in statements to Europa Press that “a large part of the population believed that after the XX National Congress of the Communist Party of China that took place in October, the measures, which actually has not happened”.

“The changes have been minimal. I think that this has also made it easier for these protests to arise now, because many people expected a change around the month of November,” he pointed out.

At the center of these protests is the fire registered on Saturday in a house in the city of Urumqi, in the western region of Xinjiang, where at least 10 people died due to, supposedly, the slow response of the firefighters precisely because of the restrictions against the coronavirus. The city in question had been under quarantine for more than 100 days, which has led residents to remain in their isolated homes for a long period of time.

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“A trigger like this was needed, probably so obvious because the Chinese government’s argument until now to justify such severe measures was to give priority to health, to save lives… But, precisely, people understand that if they are the policies Those that cause this type of tragedy generate anger,” he said in relation to the fire and the subsequent reaction of public opinion.

In this sense, he recalled that even in Spain “we have experienced that the more time passes with these measures in force, the greater the weariness of the people” and he stressed that the Government “is now being subjected to a greater pressure” despite the fact that “the debate already existed previously in China.

“Xi Jinping himself has shown significant immobility during this time. He has invested a lot in identifying himself in this policy of non-coexistence with the virus,” said Esteban, who, although it is “evident” that the pressure is increasing, “is not clear if in the short term there will be changes”. “It is difficult to foresee,” he said, although he has admitted that “if there are no changes it is easier for it to produce greater discontent.”

There are dozens of university campuses that have registered protests by students who demand a greater opening on the part of the Government, a scenario that is reminiscent of the strong demonstrations of 1989 in the country. This parallelism, according to Esteban, is integrated into the imagination of the Chinese population.

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“Students are one of the main sectors that are mobilizing, it is a group that has historically had the capacity to drag other social sectors. In the imagination, this is closely identified with the Tiananmen protests, but it goes further,” he stressed. .

In this sense, he has emphasized that “if one looks at the great mobilizations that have taken place in China throughout the 20th century (…) students have traditionally played a very active role”. “It has an important symbolic value because it can drag more population”, she has insisted.

On the possibility of divisions occurring at the top of the Government and the security forces making excessive use of force, he explained that “it is difficult to think of a division within the top leadership after the latest changes” as a result of the National Congress and has defended that “it is early to know if it will end in a tragic way like in 1989”.

“This is very important because in these regimes if there are no cracks it is difficult for the population to force the hand of the authorities”, he has maintained while stressing that fragmentation in the Government is not to be expected which, as has been stated, “it’s not going to change the narrative.”

On the other hand, he remarked that “it had been a long time, decades, that such a transversal protest movement had not been seen and capable of mobilizing diverse and regionally widespread social groups in the same period of time in China” and he has not ruled out that the Protests are in the “initial phase” as they spread across the mainland.

Many protesters have attended the marches with blank pages, an issue that has also been understood as a protest against censorship and the lack of freedom of expression in the Asian giant.

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This idea has its roots in protests such as those that took place in 2020 in the Hong Kong region, where protesters held up blank papers to protest against the controversial National Security law, which human rights advocates say would undermine the individual freedoms of the population.

Now, the use of these pages is spreading in an attempt to circumvent censorship and avoid arrests after several people have been detained throughout the day.

Although for the moment there have been no serious clashes between the Police and the protesters, several organizations have denounced strong measures against journalists, among whom is the British Edward Lawrence, who works for the BBC television network and has been beaten during his arrest. This has led associations such as the China Foreign Correspondents Club to criticize the agents’ actions, especially in Beijing and Shanghai.

Meanwhile, the authorities of large cities such as Canton, Beijing or Chongqing, among others, have ordered measures such as road closures and the blocking of entrances and exits to residential complexes with the aim of limiting participation in the marches.

China is currently recording its highest numbers of coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic. Only this Monday, the health authorities spoke of some 40,000 new cases.

The protesters, who continue to take to the streets in an attempt to achieve greater freedom despite the pandemic, now pose a challenge to Xi, who will have to consider the consequences of going ahead with a policy that is no longer welcomed by all. the population.


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