China protests ‘something new’ claims Rana Mitter
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China has been struck by a wave of unprecedented demonstrations as protestors have demanded an end to Covid protocols which have seen widespread lockdown orders imposed on regions with confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Demonstrators have clashed with police forces and condemned the communist government under President Xi Jinping after the Covid restrictions were expanded over the weekend. Experts on Chinese politics have declared the dissent has reached “new” levels after a crackdown on opposition to Xi Jinping left the government out of touch with tensions among the Chinese population.
Discussing the atmosphere surrounding the harsh Covid policy, Professor Rana Mitter, who specialises in the politics of modern China, told Times Radio: “On this particular policy, there has been a lack of visibility.”
He continued: “One thing that China specialists tend to spend a lot of time wondering is not whether China is going to become a democracy, which is not really an argument that people have, it seems very unlikely – it’s whether the top leaders actually listen to what’s going on at the grassroots.
“There’s quite a lot of consensus that even ten or 15 years ago, there were enough ears on the ground to actually let the leadership know when people were unhappy.
“The feeling is that, in recent years, there’s been such a fierce crackdown on any dissenting voices, even, it seems, in private from specialists.”
Professor Mitter suggested the “crackdown” on dissent had left the government unaware of growing opposition to China’s firm zero-Covid approach.
He reported: “It may just be that the top leaders really think that everyone thinks that everything is lovely in the garden – they’re quite happy to be locked down because at least they’re unlikely to get Covid.
“[They are] perhaps very surprised to see that people really find that their lives being slowed down or put on hold in this way simply is not sustainable year after year.”
He added: “That may be a problem with this particular version of the autocracy, for sure.”
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Some of China’s biggest cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, were rocked by huge protests over the weekend, adding to demonstrations that had already broken out in some smaller regions that have been under lockdown restrictions for weeks.
Opposition to China’s harsh zero-Covid policy has been fuelled by a fire in a high-rise building on Thursday night that killed ten people and injured nine others.
The apartment fire broke out in the Western region of Xinjiang which has been under lockdown for over 100 days, leading some to question whether the zero-Covid policy had impeded rescue efforts, although Chinese officials have denied these suggestions.
As the protests unfolded, some demonstrators called for President Xi Jinping to step down, marking an incredibly rare display of domestic objection to his leadership.
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Professor Mitter noted that opposition to Xi Jinping was exceedingly rare, meaning the protests have marked an exceptional challenge for the Chinese government.
He told Times Radio: “During the period, now just over ten years, that Xi Jinping the current President has been in power, this level of anger and visibility have simply not been seen anywhere in China. So, this is something new.”
He added: “There doesn’t appear to be one set of people or a little kind of tiny political grouping that’s organising this. This is spontaneous and coming from the grassroots. It shows how strong the anger at the continued lockdowns really is.”
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