According to Dyer (2022), protests are widespread across the People’s Republic of China (P.R. China) following the complete lockdowns instilled by the Chinese government. The government has instilled a Zero Covid Policy, which features stringent pandemic restrictions. Additionally, the protests are fueled by infectious Covid-19 variants such as omicron. Students have been sent home from campuses, and businesses shut down following the proliferating demonstrations and renewed cases of unrest, especially in Guangzhou, a southern city in P.R. China. Towards the end of November, the police chased and arrested demonstrators in seven Chinese cities. In most cities, there were continued arrests with social media posts depicting protestor vs. police faceoffs in streets within Guangzhou cities. In some instances, Dyer mentions that the police checked pedestrians’ mobile gadgets to verify if they utilized Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) like telegrams and others banned in P.R. China. This paper reviews the continued protests against Covid-19 restrictions in China. It starts by providing an overview of the problem causing the social unrest and proceeds to evaluate the tactics utilized to contain the protests. Likewise, it mentions the outcome and consequences of the tactic utilized while appraising the legitimacy of the tactic.
China’s Zero-Covid Policy was a government goal targeted at containing Covid-19 cases and ensuring they remained close to zero. Tactics to enhance the Zero-covid Policy comprised isolating the sick, mass testing, and ensuring stern lockdowns around the country to ensure that infected individuals did not spread the highly infectious Covid-19 flu (VOA News, 2022). The Policy began in Wuhan, where the virus initially broke out towards the end of 2019. In Wuhan alone, the 11 million population was locked in their households, whereas the rest of China adopted the Zero Covid policy later. In the VOA report, the Chinese government insists that the plan has helped avert the severe impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The infection and morbidity rates in P.R. China remain relatively lower than in western countries.
The public response, however, fails to depict the insinuations made by the Chinese government. Initially, the public of the P.R. of China depicted profuse discontent with the government’s move to reduce movement after imposing the lockdown. Conversely, the results did not correspond with the government’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus. Individuals in Guangzhou, for instance, protested in major cities following the severity of the lockdown and the dire outcomes of movement cessation. Although the methods utilized in the Zero-Covid Policy included lockdowns, contract tracing applications, and quarantine, most of the Policy was implemented at the local level. Some negative effects reported in the VOA news article comprise food shortage, economic downturn, and negative effects generally on travel and life. Likewise, there was an interruption in life-saving services such as rescue. For instance, in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, ten residents lost their lives in an apartment, leading to delayed delivery of paramedic and fire-fighting services due to the lockdown.
Eventually, there was a massive uproar from citizens and worldwide bodies criticizing the zero-Covid Policy. The planned restrictions were not working when China experienced its third Covid-19 wave. The cases reached 30,437 by the end of 30th November 2020. Experts, including Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Word Health Organization’s director general, asserted that the Zero-Covid Policy was unsustainable. According to the director, the Policy was unlike other successful interventions, such as importing mRNA vaccines. Alternatively, the Chinese government went for locally produced, less effective shots that contributed dismally to alleviating the rapidly increasing infection figures. Consequently, the looser approach was highly criticized. Masses gathered daily on the streets to demand more informed policies. Some citizens even wrote on social media that then-president Xi should resign his position since he did not withstand the test of practice.
We can determine that the Chinese Communist Party has long utilized coercion and inducement in the Xinjiang region to control its population (Leibold, 2019). During the Covid-19 pandemic, the government, through President Xi, utilized physical surveillance through technology-driven tools, some of which Su et al. (2021) mention in their report. Similarly, the coercion technique comes in handy to forecast citizen behavior and coerce them into desisting from protests and following government directives. However, the utility of the approach led to the erosion of social trust in Xinjiang’s society, as noted in the article, and the marginalization of minority societies, such as Uyghur Muslims who live within the region.
Xinjiang’s problem with cyclical violence and protests has been recurrent since its inception into P.R. China. The Muslim population in the region adheres more to the Uyghurs than the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which makes up the ethnic majority. According to (Leibold, 2019), knife attacks and bombings have caused the loss of lives and injuries since 2009, with most of the crimes orchestrated by Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities. Furthermore, the main forces derailing equality and economical upgrade in the region include splittism, extremism, and terrorism. The Covid-19 pandemic only added to the effects of the imbalance and the Chinese government’s failed efforts to apply Coercion and Inducement while managing the solemn challenges in the Xinjiang region.
Therefore, to manage Xinjiang’s social instability, the Chinese government attempts to repurpose social sorting and use coercion. The government has continually relied on sorting, coercing, and inducing to reshape individuals with extremist religious behavior and beliefs. Through (Leibold, 2019), we can determine that authorities have previously utilized coercive methods to eradicate Muslim women and men that portrayed extremist behavior around 2017. Leibold reports that the captured individuals were detained in internment facilities, transformation, or vocational training centers. Before their legalization, the detainment centers were palpable institutions that subjected detainees to forced skills sessions through multiple coercion methods like physical and psychological torture. The Chinese government targeted an aversion to deviant thought among the subjects, who were otherwise promised and guaranteed freedom upon re-education. Otherwise, through Leibold (2019), we can determine that individuals who did not submit to reform in the Xinjiang region are imprisoned until they adhere to the forced skills.
Additionally, the dramatic expansion of the Chinese security arrangement has involved using consent to guarantee public security (Wang & Minzner, 2015, p. 340). Thus, the state has relied on bureaucratic forms to contain social protests and control rioting petitioners. Furthermore, concession involves arrest, threat, and harassment of party leaders to contain social unrest. During the implementation of the Zero-covid strategy, for instance, the government tightened social restrictions by pouring into rioting cities like Hangzhou, where social activists were demonstrating against oppressive rule. The government’s move to harness the restrictions proved effective, according to Dyer (2022). Infection rates and mortality numbers remained down compared to western countries, such as the United States, that failed to abide by movement cessation through the lockdown approach
Under President Xi’s leadership, the Chinese government fine-tuned the zero-covid Policy. In Beijing, for instance, the government raised the ban on movement. Individuals were gradually allowed to take economic trips across the country while abiding by strict social restrictions. After gauging its effectiveness, the approach was working. To withstand the test of time, the Zero Covid Policy worked through other sustainable approaches, including purchasing enough ICU beds for the general population. Recently, the Chinese government has continually reiterated the essence of mass testing, isolation, and use of mRNA vaccines to contain covid related deaths years after the first strain was reported in the country (VOA News, 2022).
Social unrest witnessed in P.R. China in the attempt to implement the Zero Covid Policy reflects the legitimacy of conflict management approaches in the country. President Xi’s government, in some situations, used less brutal tactics to engage with the public and listen to their grievances. The government utilizes a similar tactic while launching the New Socialist Countryside Campaign (NSCC). According to Chuang (2014), local state officials have undermined potential resistance to bureaucratic rule by listening to resistors’ grievances via formal channels.
The process contains the generation of widespread resistance, thus sectioning evictions and making land expropriation a less problematic issue. To sum up, the utility of bureaucratic absorption in the P.R. China has helped hold activists accountable to the law and the Zero Covid Policy. Moreover, conflicting individuals can formally present their concerns through rightful resistance, whose entitlements, according to Chuang’s (2014) sentiments, are granted by the socialist state depending on their coherence and allusion to constitutional law, even during the start of 2023. China is slowly reopening social amenities, considering the reduced vaccine uptake by elderly individuals. According to the VOA news report, only 66% of individuals aged above 80 years have taken the covid-19 jab. Similarly, only 40% of the population has taken the booster vaccine, putting the country’s health network under global scrutiny.
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Dyer, O. (2022). Covid-19: Protests against lockdowns in China reignite amid crackdown. BMJ, o2896. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o2896
Leibold, J. (2019). Surveillance in China’s Xinjiang Region: Ethnic Sorting, Coercion, and Inducement. Journal of Contemporary China, 29(121), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2019.1621529
Su, Z., Xu, X., & Cao, X. (2021). What explains popular support for government monitoring in China? Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/19331681.2021.1997868
VOA News. (2022, 28th November). What Is China’s “Zero-COVID” Policy? VOA. https://www.voanews.com/a/what-is-china-s-zero-covid-policy-/6854291.html
Wang, Y., & Minzner, C. (2015). The rise of the Chinese security state. The China Quarterly, 222, 339-359. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0305741015000430