The'myth of infallibility' of Xi Jinping is put to the test as zero-Covid protests roil China

 The leader of the Communist Party must choose between relaxing his signature program and suppressing protests.

Xi Jinping is put to the test as zero-Covid protests roil China

China's vice president at the time, Xi Jinping, explained to his American counterpart, Joe Biden, in 2011 that the "Arab spring" that engulfed North Africa and the Middle East was brought on by regional leaders losing touch with their constituents.

The president is in a pickle after repeating their error ten years later, and less than six weeks after Xi cruised to a third term as leader of the Chinese Communist party and military.

Does Xi repress the widespread demonstrations against the "zero-Covid" policy of his administration, running the risk of a stronger public backlash? A "exit tsunami" of cases that might kill tens of thousands, if not millions, of senior adults throughout the upcoming winter could be released if he caves in and loosens Covid regulations.

The latter scenario would undercut Xi's frequent boasts about how China's party-led political system is superior than that of the US and other democratically controlled adversaries in dealing with existential crises.

In a speech to senior party cadres delivered in-house in 2012, Xi said that the Soviet Communist party, which fell two years after the Berlin Wall, was doomed because no one was "man enough" to step up and preserve it.

Therefore, many doubt that Xi, who cemented his position as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong at last month's 20th party congress and defeated his already feeble challengers, will readily relinquish one of his most important policy "accomplishments."

Director of the SOAS China Institute in London Steve Tsang stated that "Xi needs to maintain the myth of his infallibility." "When a strongman or dictator is pressed, their natural reaction is typically repression. Xi is not an exception, in my opinion.

Leading state media channels failed to mention the weekend protests and emphasized that the party "would not waver" in its resolve to continue with zero-Covid and "put lives and the people first."

The party's customary response to direct threats to its authority would be to treat suspected ringleaders or "black hands" in such protests harshly. Over the weekend, there seemed to be a story of inhabitants being freed from a compound that had been locked down for every incident of police acting forcefully.

In 2019, when faced with a challenge from millions of Hong Kong demonstrators calling for democracy, Xi responded with a rigid national security law that resulted in the detention of numerous activists and ultimately destroyed the movement. Similar protests by students across China in 1989 and the Falun Gong religious movement ten years later were mercilessly suppressed.

In some meetings, protesters have publicly called on Xi and the party to "step down" or have referenced a now-famous "bridge protest" that took place just before the party congress in October, during which a lone dissident held up a giant banner calling for the president to be removed from office.

Other tweets referencing the advice to listen to the people from Xi Zhongxun, Xi's late father and a key party official during the Mao era, have gone viral quicker than censors can take them down. Unflattering and occasionally graphic drawings of the president also exist.

The fury has been fueled by the economy. According to Lance Gore, a China specialist at the National University of Singapore, "they have been confined in their homes for such a long time, can't launch their enterprises, and are in debt."

To cheers, he declared, "No freedom and poverty, that's where we are right now." Later, when the cops tried to pull him away, his neighbors intervened to save him.

Chinese leaders "truly missed the pulse of just how deep the unhappiness was over the rolling lockdowns" because they were so focused on a "successful party conference," according to John Delury, a China researcher at Yonsei University in Seoul.

"Whatever happens next, this is a huge rebuke to his zero-Covid policy. It's unheard of to reach the stage where there are campus speeches and street protests.

But if the masses publicly mocking Xi succeed in removing zero-Covid restrictions, it might not only be a political nightmare for the Chinese leader but also a public health catastrophe.

The head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, Joerg Wuttke, warned that opening up now would be disastrous.

Wuttke stated that the government should instead concentrate on a "strong vaccination effort that permits China to open up next year." Wuttke has not left China since the pandemic began in January 2020.

As a result of China's effectiveness in containing unchecked Covid outbreaks for the first two years of the pandemic, the population has not yet established a natural immunity to the virus, a situation made worse by the elderly's uneven vaccination rates.

Chinese and American recently predicted forecasted that an unchecked Omicron outbreak would result in a 15.6-fold increase in demand for critical care units and about 1.6 million deaths.

Gore said that Xi, not simply the central government, had completely centralized the manner they handled Covid.

It prevents local governments from experimenting with [zero-Covid relaxation] and poses significant difficulties in terms of how to be open.

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