BEIJING – China has signalled that it will stick with its longstanding zero-Covid policy despite mass demonstrations breaking out across the country over its harsh coronavirus containment measures, with some protesters openly calling for the resignation of President Xi Jinping.
The unprecedented wave of protests spread to the financial hub of Shanghai as well as universities in some cities, including Beijing and Nanjing, with demonstrators holding up blank sheets of paper as a symbol of protest against censorship.
And in a rare instance of public protest against the Chinese leadership, a video showed a group shouting: Down with the Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping!
In a front-page editorial on Sunday, the Communist Partys official Peoples Daily said China would unwaveringly persist in its Covid-19 policies and that victory will be attained only by persisting to the end.
The Peoples Daily editorial, bylined Zhongyin which stands for voice of the party centre emphasised correcting wrong attitudes, including underestimating the problem, indifference and self-righteousness.
We must resolutely overcome numb thinking, war-weariness, wishful thinking and a lax mentality, it said.
The article added: Our prevention and control policies can stand the test of history, our prevention and control measures are scientific and effective. They are the most economical and effective. There is no doubt about this, and we should have full confidence in this.
But after almost three years of the pandemic, many Chinese are fed up with Covid-19 policies which have battered the economy and left many cooped up at home and unable to work.
Since late last week, mass demonstrations have broken out in major cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Urumqi and others.
Sundays protests broke out after an apartment fire three days earlier in Urumqi, the capital of Chinas Xinjiang region, killed 10 people and injured nine others.
Urumqis local government has denied that evacuation of residents was affected by lockdown measures, repudiating widely circulated videos that showed firefighting efforts hampered by lockdown measures in the city.
Following the fire, Urumqi officials have also said that they would resume local transport from Monday, lifting a months-long lockdown.
The case has proved to be a rallying point for those angry over the draconian measuresemployed to keep people at home.
Lift lockdown for Urumqi, lift lockdown for Xinjiang, lift lockdown for all of China, chanted a crowd of dozens in Shanghai, seen on a video on social media. Remote video URL VIDEO: REUTERS More On This Topic Hundreds gather for fresh protest in Shanghai: Witness, footage
In Beijings prestigious Tsinghua University, hundreds gathered to sing the Chinese national anthem while holding up blank sheets of paper. In Nanjings Communication University of China, dozens held up similar pieces of white paper, illuminating them against the night sky by torchlights from their mobile phones. Embed Twitter Tweet URL In October, ahead of a key Communist Party Congress, a man had draped banners over a side of the busy Sitong Bridge in Beijings Haidian district, calling for an end to Mr Xis rule and Chinas strict Covid-19 curbs.
Analysts are now watching to see if the protests across China gather momentum.
The protests in China are like the tiny ant-holes in the dam. While none of them are fatal on their own, enough of them, at strategic locations and times, could ultimately lead to the collapse of the mighty structure, Singapore Management University law professor Henry Gao posted on Twitter.
At the moment, the protests are unlikely to cause Beijing to change course, said Associate Professor Alfred Wu from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
The governments policy priority is very clear: regime stability is number one, said Prof Wu, pointing to state medias latest editorials and signals from the party congress in October.
From the state, from the governments perspective, the only solution now is to crack down on these protests. Embed Twitter Tweet URL The Chinese authorities are in a bind because protests are coming at a time when cases are surging because of the highly infectious Omicron variant, meaning harsher lockdown measures would be required to get a grip on infections.
Nationwide case counts reached 39,791 on Saturday, hitting a record high for a fourth day in a row. There was also another death, bringing total fatalities to 5,233.
In places such as the Chinese capital, which reported 4,245 cases on Saturday, local community officials seem to be struggling with the burgeoning caseload.
These officials say infections are being picked up at such a rate, yet higher levels of government seem to be unable to keep up with the issuing of the official documentation needed to enforce measures such as sealing off buildings. This means it could be days after cases are picked up before buildings are officially locked down. More On This Topic Hundreds protest Covid-19 lockdowns at Beijing's Tsinghua University: Witness Blank paper becomes symbol of defiance in protests against Chinas Covid-19 curbs In some housing communities, people have questioned local officials over the legal basis of lockdown measures and defy requests to stay home, city residents told The Straits Times.
In a bid to make sure residents stay put at home, some community officials have resorted to bolting building doors shut, as Mr Bernie Lee found out.
The 36-year-old media practitioner said the main door to his housing tower was chained shut on Sunday morning, and the lock was only removed after residents complained and called the police.
I was horrified. This is a fire hazard. What happens if there is an emergency? There are heavily pregnant women in our building. A lock like this is not something you can just pull apart, he said. More On This Topic Huge Covid-19 protests erupt in China's Xinjiang after deadly fire Has China reached breaking point over zero-Covid-19?