Has China begun a retreat from zero-COVID — and is it too late? – HotAir

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Earlier this week, the Xi Jinping regime threatened to “resolutely crack down” on protesters across the country. Instead, Beijing may have belatedly recognized the risk in failure.

According to a New York Times report this morning, suddenly COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in cities with the most significant unrest:

In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, residents returned to work on Thursday for the first time in weeks after Covid-19 lockdowns were lifted. In Chongqing, in the southwest, some residents were no longer required to take regular Covid tests. And in Beijing, a senior health official played down the severity of current Omicron variants, a rare move for the government.

The developments suggest that the ruling Communist Party may be starting to back down on unpopular Covid restrictions in response to a wave of mass protests that have been the most widespread challenge to Beijing in decades.

When protesters rallied in a dozen cities over the past weekend, fueled by anger over the country’s strict lockdowns, Beijing initially responded with security measures focused on rounding up protesters and deterring others from taking part in gatherings. Now the party is also, to some extent and in some places, signaling a willingness to address the root cause of the public anger: intrusive pandemic controls that have stifled economic growth, left millions of people confined in their homes for long stretches and set off violent clashes as recently as this week.

CBS News also sees signs that the Communist Party has begun to worry about its position in the face of the widespread unrest, the worst in decades and perhaps ever in its 70-plus-years rule. They point to “subtle signs” that Beijing may be dialing down the hyperbole about COVID-19 as a means to prepare the propaganda space for policy changes — and to excuse their retreat:

As CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reported Thursday, the protests were the first time in more than three decades that China’s rulers have faced explicit calls for the downfall of the Communist Party. While the party didn’t appear to be seriously shaken, there were subtle signs that the message was delivered.

Now there appears to be a tiny crack in the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s suit of anti-COVID armor: A top official has acknowledged for the first time something that many global health experts and national health officials have accepted for months: That the currently-pervasive Omicron strain of the virus, while highly contagious, seems less lethal than its predecessors.

“The pathogenicity of the Omicron virus weakens,” Sun Chunlan, the vice premier of China’s cabinet, who has supervised the country’s anti-COVID measures and often travels to outbreak hotspots, said Wednesday. State-run media said Sun had told a meeting of the National Health Commission that the country now faces “a new situation” with “new tasks.”

Her remarks quickly ricocheted across China’s social media universe. The hashtag “Omicron pathogenicity weakened significantly” briefly soared to the top of trends Thursday on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

One user wondered, “Is the wind changing direction? After all, we are exhausted.”

The population may well be exhausted with Xi’s zero-COVID policies, but they have gotten more energized than ever against the regime. That may have started with their brutal lockdown policies, but the populist revolt may have a broader mandate by now. Beijing writer and political-science expert Wu Qiang warned yesterday in the NYT than the communists have lost the people, and they won’t get them back with just a momentary rollback of lockdowns.

This is indeed a “tipping point,” Wu writes:

The sudden release of nearly three years of pent-up frustration over the excessive Covid measures — which have disrupted lives, separated families and crippled the economy — is the largest anti-government outburst since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square. Again, the odds are against the protesters. The Chinese Communist Party, which completely controls the country, has moved quickly to suppress it.

But the Chinese people have reached a tipping point. The brutal crackdown in 1989 left China’s people depoliticized and intimidated into the social contract that has governed life for three decades: Leave politics to the party in return for some economic freedom. A new generation, pushed to the brink by the government’s zero-Covid obsession, has discovered its voice. …

The final straw came on Nov. 24, when a fire in an apartment building in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, killed at least 10 people. Many Chinese people immediately suspected that Covid measures had obstructed firefighters’ access, though officials denied that, and a wave of empathy and frustration spread across the country. Chinese people will often admit to a cold and selfish streak in our society, but they suddenly found common cause in their fear and frustration.

I, too, have endured zero-Covid’s indignities: lining up with others like cattle for daily tests; obsessing on my phone over the mandatory health code, which dictates whether you can move about in public; and wondering whether tomorrow I would be locked down again for weeks. Along with millions of others, I sat at home in Beijing, glued to my phone deep into the night last weekend as images began circulating on Chinese social media showing young demonstrators holding blank sheets of paper — an expression of silent defiance that has become the symbol of this movement.

For anyone who has lived in China for the past three years, it was cathartic; our shared fear had become our shared power. The next day, demonstrators burst out of closed communities and university campuses to mourn the Urumqi victims, demand an end to zero Covid and call for human rights and freedom.

Wu also points to the dramatic reveal of normalcy everywhere else in the coverage of the World Cup. Fans, players, and coaches don’t wear masks and no one seems to worry. This has lead people in China to realize that the lockdowns aren’t actually a necessity for dealing with COVID, but may either point to failures of China’s vaccines, stalking horses to exert more control over the masses, or probably both.

And they are tired of it all.

Will anything come from this “tipping point”? A real revolution still seems like a long-shot be, but clearly the prospect has Beijing worried. They’re hoping to mollify the masses again by lightening up on the shutdowns, but all that may end up doing is providing confirmation of their incompetence and thoroughly corrupt motives in the first place.

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