China doubles down on its 'zero COVID' rules while protests in major cities grow
- Chinese citizens across the country are protesting the government's "zero COVID" policy.
- Experts said that walking back some policies could quell protests but won't be enough to stop them.
As China doubles down on its "zero COVID" policies, citizens in major cities have taken to the streets to protest the strict lockdowns three years since the coronavirus's first outbreak.
Two international politics experts told Insider that while reversing some zero COVID policies could ease protestors, it won't be enough to send them home for good.
Chong Ja Ian, a professor at the National University of Singapore's political science department, told Insider that the protests are "very tricky" for Chinese authorities because they are so widespread.
"With protests popping up everywhere and [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] having owned the zero COVID policy, this approach becomes more complicated for the [Chinese Communist Party] to undertake," Chong said. "The party-state does not like to look like it is caving to pressure, especially under Xi. That may mean greater incentives to crack down, which itself can become costly after a point."
Chong added that "some loosening up could encourage protesters to go home," but he predicted that if protestors think they can get Chinese authorities to back down, they might leverage protests again over other issues in the future.
Protests erupted over the weekend after a Thursday apartment fire killed 10 people in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region. In online discussions, commenters argued that the fire might have been put out more swiftly had COVID restrictions on the building not been in place, the Associated Press reported.
Seemingly in response to the fire, the Beijing City Government announced Monday that it would no longer require gates outside of apartment complexes where people with COVID-19 are living, PBS News Hour reported.
But the government has shown no signs of easing any other zero COVID rules.
And in the days since the fire, protests have spread across the country. Students at multiple universities have gathered on their campuses in protest. People in the streets of Beijing shouted, "No to COVID tests, yes to freedom." Some protestors called for President Xi Jinping's resignation, the AP reported.
Protesters around the country held up blank, white pieces of paper above their heads to protest against the zero COVID policies. The blank sheet of paper has become a symbol of defiance against the ruling Communist party in China.
To manage the protests, Ian Bremmer, a geopolitics expert and the founder and president of Eurasia Group, said he expects "enforcement of existing policies will become somewhat more lax."
But he doesn't predict a "broader relaxation of the zero covid policy."
"There's too much concern about hospitals getting overwhelmed, especially given present case numbers and concern of a further winter spike," Bremmer said, speaking to Insider.
Xi voiced those concerns during a visit to Wuhan Tuesday in response to the zero COVID policies, state news agency Xinhua reported. During his visit, he said that his government "would rather temporarily affect a little economic development than risk harming people's life safety and physical health, especially the elderly and children."
Bremmer said the relaxing of some policies "by itself won't end protests."
He added that it is unlikely "there's as much on weekdays...and more targeted repression will also have an effect."
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