China vows to clamp down on ‘hostile forces’ as public tests Xi

BEIJING (AP) — China’s ruling Communist Party has pledged to « resolutely suppress infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces, » following the largest street protests in decades organized by citizens tired of strict anti-virus rest

BEIJING (AP) — China’s ruling Communist Party has pledged to « resolutely suppress infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces, » following the largest street protests in decades organized by citizens tired of strict antivirus restrictions.

The statement by the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission released on Tuesday evening comes amid a massive show of force by the security services to deter a repeat of the protests that erupted over the weekend in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and several others. cities.

Although it did not directly address the protests, the statement is a reminder of the party’s determination to uphold its rule.

Hundreds of SUVs, pickup trucks and armored vehicles with flashing lights were parked on city streets on Wednesday as police and paramilitary forces carried out random identity checks and searched the cellphones of people looking for photos, banned apps or other potential evidence of their participation in the protests.

The number of people arrested during the protests and ensuing police actions is not known.

While reports and images of the protests flourished online before being scrubbed by government censors, they were entirely ignored by tightly controlled state media.

National news on Wednesday night was dominated by the death of former president and Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin at the age of 96.

Jiang was installed as a leader just before the bloody crackdown of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and then presided over an era of meteoric economic growth in the 1990s and early 1990s. 2000s while maintaining rigid party control.

The committee’s statement, released after an expanded session on Monday chaired by its leader Chen Wenqing, a member of the party’s 24-member Politburo, said the meeting was to discuss the results of the party’s 20th congress in October.

At the event, Xi granted himself a third five-year term as general secretary, potentially making him China’s ruler for life, while stacking key bodies with loyalists and weeding out opposing voices.

« The meeting stressed that political and legal bodies should take effective measures to … resolutely safeguard national security and social stability, » the statement said.

« We should resolutely suppress infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces in accordance with law, resolutely suppress illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order, and effectively maintain overall social stability, » he said. .

Yet less than a month after seemingly securing his political future and unrivaled dominance, Xi, who has signaled that he prioritizes regime stability above all else, faces his biggest public challenge yet.

He and the party have yet to directly address the unrest, which has spread to university campuses and the semi-autonomous southern city of Hong Kong, and sparked sympathy protests overseas.

Most protesters have focused their anger on the ‘zero-COVID’ policy which has placed millions under lockdown and quarantine, limiting their access to food and medicine while wreaking havoc on the economy and severely restricting travel . Many scoffed at the government’s ever-changing reasoning, as well as claims that « hostile outside foreign forces » were driving the wave of anger.

Yet bolder voices have called for more freedom and democracy and for Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, and the party he leads, to step down – speech seen as subversive and liable to long prison sentences. Some held up blank white pieces of paper to demonstrate their lack of free speech rights.

The weekend protests were sparked by anger over the death of at least 10 people in a fire on November 24 in far western China, which sparked questions online about whether firefighters or victims attempting to escape were blocked by virus checks.

Authorities eased some controls and announced a new push to vaccinate vulnerable groups after the protests, but maintained they would stick to the « zero-COVID » strategy.

The party had already promised last month to reduce disruption, but a spike in infections soon prompted party cadres under intense pressure to tighten controls to prevent outbreaks. The National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 37,612 cases detected in the past 24 hours, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,233.

Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students protested over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and southern province of Guangdong have sent students home in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism, including during the Tiananmen protests.

Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, perhaps to avoid encouraging others by drawing attention to the scale of the protests. Videos and posts on Chinese social media regarding the protests have been deleted by the party’s vast online censorship apparatus.

« Zero COVID » has helped keep case numbers lower than the United States and other major countries, but global health experts, including the head of the World Health Organization, are saying more moreover, it is unsustainable. China dismissed the remarks as irresponsible.

Beijing must make its approach « very targeted » to reduce economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday.

However, economists and health experts warn that Beijing cannot relax controls that prevent most travelers from leaving China until tens of millions of elderly people are vaccinated. They say that means « zero COVID » might not end for another year.

On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said the restrictions, among other things, prevent U.S. diplomats from meeting with U.S. prisoners held in China, as required by an international treaty. Due to the lack of commercial airlines in the country, the embassy has to use monthly charter flights to fly its staff in and out.

« COVID is truly dominating every aspect of life » in China, he said in an online chat with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Regarding the protests, Burns said the embassy is watching their progress and the government’s response, but said, « We believe the Chinese people have a right to peaceful protest. »

“They have the right to make their point of view known. They have the right to be heard. It is a fundamental right everywhere in the world. It should be. And that right should not be hindered, and it should not be hindered,” he said.

Burns also referenced instances where Chinese police harassed and detained foreign journalists covering the protests.

« We support freedom of the press as well as freedom of expression, » he said.

Asked about foreign expressions of support for protesters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended China’s approach to handling COVID-19 and said other nations should take care. of their own business.

« We hope they will listen to their own people’s voice and interests first instead of pointing fingers at others, » Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.

The Associated Press


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