This is how state power prevents protests against zero-Covid

Only in Hong Kong did two dozen demonstrators gather in a shopping area in the evening, as reported by the Hong Kong Free Press. They held up white sheets of paper as a sign of solidarity with the protest movement on the mainland. After less than an hour, the police broke up the gathering.

Apparently the police presence deterred the demonstrators. There were isolated videos of smaller protest actions on social media. However, these could not be independently verified.

Extensive police checks were carried out in Shanghai on Monday. The security forces asked passers-by to show their smartphones, eyewitnesses report. This is how the authorities check whether foreign apps such as Telegram or Twitter are being used.

Because the demonstrators arrange to meet and share photos and videos of the protests. Pedestrians were also checked near Volksplatz. There had previously been calls online to gather there.

Protest action on Monday evening in Hong Kong

The action was broken up by the police.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Over the weekend, thousands had in cities with millions of inhabitants such as Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan demonstrated against the strict zero-Covid policy. Experts speak of the largest political demonstrations in decades. The participants take a high risk. Due to the comprehensive monitoring, many of them should be identified afterwards. They face arrest and abuse.

Demonstrators in China are demanding the resignation of President Xi

In Beijing and Shanghai, the police presence was significantly increased on Monday night. Videos from Shanghai shared on social media show special forces taking protesters away in buses. Other scenes show them being beaten by plainclothes security guards. A journalist from the BBC was also beaten and temporarily arrested on Sunday evening.

Students should return to their home provinces

The authorities seem to be paying particular attention to the universities. Further protests are now apparently to be stopped there by offering the students the opportunity to return home early.

Experts expect that there will be more arrests of demonstration participants in the coming days. In addition, the central government could punish local cadres who have implemented the corona restrictions particularly strictly. In this way, the regime could try to divert the anger towards the local authorities.

>> Also read: Commentary: In China, there is now a threat of a violent reaction from the government

The state leadership is downplaying the wave of protests. “What they are talking about does not reflect what actually happened,” the State Department spokesman said when asked by a journalist for an official statement on the demonstrations.

Increasing corona numbers or growing resentment

The German government is monitoring the protests very closely, a spokesman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed. “We will continue to look very closely at how the protests are developing, especially if protesters and journalists are arrested and abused,” affirmed Nils Schmid, foreign policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group. Beyond that, the options are limited. Regarding China’s problems in fighting the pandemic, Schmid said: “We have been offering China the use of the German vaccine for years. This offer still stands.”

Katharina Dröge, leader of the Greens parliamentary group, told the Handelsblatt: “The nationwide protests in China show that Xi Jinpings strict zero-Covid strategy has failed.”

It takes a lot of courage to take to the streets against the authoritarian-centralist CP government. Now it is to be feared that “the CP government will counter this with increased censorship and repression with all severity”. Dröge called for human rights to be the focus of the new German China strategy.

The German government is currently working on its own China strategy for the first time under the auspices of the Federal Foreign Office. The Handelsblatt had reported on the first draft.

CDU-Foreign politician Norbert Röttgen was surprised by the demonstrations in China. “It’s not about economic dissatisfaction,” said Röttgen. Rather, the demands are centered on fundamental civil liberties.

“Not only do people seem tired of being locked away for months. They are obviously also tired of being banned from speaking and not having a real democratic election,” said Röttgen.

>> Read here: New lockdowns are squeezing China’s growth and weighing on European companies

The fact that there are such national protests and that people are overcoming their fear is more than remarkable. “For Xi Jinping, this could result in his biggest personal challenge to date,” said Röttgen. “He must recognize that he has subjugated the party, but the people are rebelling.”

Reinhard Bütikofer, head of the EU Parliament’s China delegation, does not expect “the protests to directly challenge Xi’s power”. However, with Xi concentrating all power in his hands, he cannot escape criticism.

Slogans like “Xi Jinping, resign!” and “We don’t want an emperor” express this. Bütikofer demanded that the EU must react with sanctions if the demonstrations were violently suppressed and “large-scale repression” ensued.

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Reinhard Bütikofer, head of the EU Parliament’s China delegation, does not expect “the protests to directly challenge Xi’s power”.

(Photo: AP)

David McAllister, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, also fears that the situation could deteriorate: “Xi has always made it clear that the Communist Party’s retention of power is his top priority.”

EU Council President Charles Michel is expected in Beijing on Thursday, and a meeting with Xi is also planned. Michel is likely to repeat the offer of the Europeans to provide China with the effective mRNA vaccine from Biontech to deliver. So far, however, the regime has refused to issue an import permit. The state party relies solely on Chinese vaccines, which are significantly less effective.

As Xi and Michel hold conferences in Beijing, top EU and US officials gather in Washington for a “China dialogue.” The aim is to better coordinate political dealings with the People’s Republic across the Atlantic.

Not only do people seem tired of being locked away for months. They’re also obviously tired of being banned from speaking up. CDU foreign politician Norbert Röttgen

A high-ranking European diplomat emphasized that there were “hardly any differences” between Washington and Brussels in the analysis of the situation: “China poses a threat or a challenge because it propagates an alternative model of society, the economy and human rights.”

However, there are very different views in Europe and America as to what conclusions to draw from this analysis. The USA want to radically curtail tech transfers to the People’s Republic, most recently they imposed far-reaching sanctions on the Chinese chip industry. EU countries like Germany, on the other hand, fear the costs of economic decoupling.

However, fear of the economic consequences of the Chinese zero-Covid strategy is also growing in Europe. “If the People’s Republic does not deal with Covid in the foreseeable future, it will slide into a recession. Then we are heading for the biggest crisis since the Second World War,” warned Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff in an interview with the Handelsblatt. An economic collapse in China would “not only have serious geopolitical consequences, but would have catastrophic consequences for the global economy”.

Mainly because of the real estate crisis, China is already experiencing the slowest growth in decades, even slower than 2020, the worst corona year,” says Rogoff: The current one IMFforecast of 4.4 percent for 2023″ considers the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund to be “overly optimistic”.

More: Protests in parts of China against corona policy – people call on Xi to resign

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