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China warns of crackdown as protests to COVID policy spread

Xi Jinping
AP Photo/Andy Wong
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves at an event to introduce new members of the Politburo Standing Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 23, 2022. Barely a month after granting himself new powers as China’s possible leader for life, Xi is facing a wave of public anger of the kind not seen for decades, sparked by his draconian “zero-COVID” program that will soon enter its fourth year.

The Chinese government is warning of an impending crackdown on protesters opposing the country’s “zero-COVID” approach to containing the coronavirus as protests spread. 

China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission released a statement Tuesday saying it would “resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces” following rare protests that have become the largest in decades. 

The protesters are pushing back against China’s policy to try to keep the number of COVID-19 cases in the country to as close to zero as possible. This has led the government to consistently order widespread lockdowns throughout the pandemic, often for entire cities. 

China’s policy has helped to keep COVID-19 cases lower than in many other major countries, but experts have said that it’s unsustainable. 

The country has also seen record new daily case numbers of more than 30,000 in recent days, as much of the population has not been exposed to the virus and therefore has not built up immunity. Low vaccination rates among elderly populations have also allowed the virus to spread more easily and have more harmful effects on people. 

Frustration with the policy has been building, but the protests themselves stemmed from a fire at an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang region last week that killed 10 people and injured nine others. Protesters have blamed the government’s COVID-19 policies for slowing firefighters’ response to the fire and costing lives. 

Protests have happened in cities across the entire country, including the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, and at 50 universities. 

China’s statement comes after protesters clashed with police in the city of Guangzhou on Tuesday night, Reuters reported. Video posted online showed riot police wearing white protective suits and holding shields while advancing, while another video showed people throwing objects at police and another showed protesters being arrested. 

China’s statement did not directly address the protests but signaled the government’s willingness to crack down. The number of people who have been arrested is unknown, and state-run media have not mentioned the protests, instead covering the death of former Chinese President and Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin on Wednesday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tags China China fire China protests COVID lockdown COVID-19 policy zero COVID
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