China’s “Zero Covid” Transformation Leads to Loss of Confidence in Leadership | Coronavirus pandemic news

As China’s years of “coronavirus-free” strict restrictions come to an abrupt halt, relations between the country’s rulers and the ruled are strained.

People who once supported no COVID have been left wondering what the years of strict restrictions are like now that almost all policies put in place to protect people have been dropped and COVID-19 is spreading among China’s population.

And the sudden reversal of policy by President Xi Jinping’s administration has left some previously apolitical people deeply embittered by their leaders in Beijing.

In Shanghai, China’s largest city, 31-year-old Ming Li – who asked that her real name not be used – was among those who took to the streets at the end of November to commemorate those killed in an apartment building fire in the west. The Chinese city of Urumqi.

Participants blamed strict lockdown policies on victims being unable to escape burning apartments, and the vigils quickly turned into street protests across urban China. Protesters like Ming Li have criticized the restrictions, which have shaped life in China for nearly three years.

Describing to Al Jazeera the moment that became the vigil, Ming Li said that as the protests gained momentum at the end of last year, demands to get rid of the novel coronavirus shifted to getting rid of the leaders who implemented those policies. All-out anti-government protest.

She recounted how a man in the crowd of protesters shouted: “Xi Jinping!”

Ming Li replied along with everyone else soon: “Step down!”

The man kept shouting, Ming Li said, and the crowd kept responding:

“Xi Jinping!”

“get down!”

“Xi Jinping!”

“get down!”

After a month of protests, Ming Li recalled how the demonstration and chanting were the most intense experience of her life.

This public expression of dissent was also the most public display of public defiance of the CCP in more than a generation.

Meng Li described the protests as emerging from a mixture of pent-up frustration, desperation and anger that was spontaneously unleashed on Chinese streets.

“All that energy was channeled into a call,” she told Al Jazeera.

She said these protest calls were “on behalf of all those who not only wanted a change to the zero COVID policy but a change to the Chinese leadership summit as well”.

Like Ming Lee and her Fellow protesters in Shanghai They were calling for Xi Jinping to step down, and a 23-year-old — whom Al Jazeera refers to as Chen Wu — joined protesters in Beijing to demand an end to the zero-COVID policy.

However, Chen Wu did not go as far as the demonstrators in Shanghai calling for Xi to step down.

He explained, “This is a very serious thing to demand publicly in China, and I don’t think things will change if Xi Jinping steps down.”

“But I think the Communist Party should start sharing some of its power with the people,” he said.

So why join the protests against COVID-19 restrictions?

“I think this policy was slowly destroying more lives than it was saving,” he explained.

“And since the top leadership promoted zero COVID, our demand was directed at them.”

The November protests against the zero COVID policy, along with the anti-government messaging that emerged, seemed to take the Chinese leadership completely by surprise.

Less than two weeks later, authorities announced the discontinuation of some key elements of the zero COVID policy, beginning a process that has now seen most of the policy dismantled.

From non-political to political

Despite their political claims, Chen Wu and Ming Li both described themselves as largely apolitical until very recently.

For Ming Li, the turn to politics began with severe restrictions on daily life in Shanghai in 2022.

The city of 25 million people went into almost complete lockdown in April to thwart an outbreak of the Omicron variant. The huge city has been in a suffocating lockdown for about two months. During that time there were stories of forced quarantines, food shortages, separation of babies and children from their parents, and even suicides.

“It was a living nightmare,” Ming Li recalled.

“Before, I hadn’t thought much about the political questions, but during the lockdown, I started asking myself what kind of leadership would put its people through such hell to fight a virus that much of the world has overtaken,” she said. .

For Chen Wu, a bus accident in Guizhou Province in September marked a turning point for him. The bus was carrying 47 people to the quarantine center when it overturned on the highway, killing 27 of them.

“The incident convinced me that the Communist Party’s anti-coronavirus policy is killing people and needs to end,” he said.

A worn out social contract

It is often said that the informal social contract underpins the relationship between the ruling Communist Party and the Chinese people: the CPC guarantees security, stability, and economic opportunity, thus, Chinese citizens stay out of politics and allows the CCP to rule unchallenged.

This unspoken decade has been sullied by the last year of COVID chaos as people’s lives as well as the Chinese economy took a huge hit.

There are also clear signs of dissatisfaction with the authorities, especially since the reversal of the no-COVID situation occurred shortly after the 20th CPC Congress in October, which championed China’s supremacy in dealing with COVID-19 with the concentration of power in the hands of Xi and his own. His close circle, who imposed the strict approach to the epidemic.

Those interviewed told Al Jazeera that the accelerating deconstruction of “Zero COVID” divided people into opponents and supporters of the policy. He also divided people into the physically weak and the strong as the virus spread in the country.

What appears to unite all parties, however, is the mutual confusion and frustration directed at the authorities over their handling of the pandemic.

Amid the turmoil, Xi, in a New Year’s address, called for unity in China’s new approach to fighting COVID-19.

While people like Meng Li and Chen Wu see the end of Covid measures as steps in the right direction, others are disappointed by the sudden change.

The 46-year-old from Chengdu, referred to as Xiang Hou, wasn’t fond of the ongoing COVID restrictions either. But he thought they served a greater good.

“Based on what I heard from the authorities, I thought we were fighting this virus together as a country by giving up some freedoms in order to stay safe so we could avoid all the COVID deaths that happened in Europe and America,” he told Al Jazeera.

As China eased and then dropped coronavirus restrictions, the messaging from the authorities has changed, too.

It is no longer about China collectively fighting the virus by staying vigilant, but about individuals being responsible for their own health.

Xiang Hu thought that politics and rhetoric changed too quickly, which left him confused and angry. His parents are elderly and unvaccinated, and he worries that they may not make it through the coronavirus wave now sweeping the country.

He said, “I trust my government will do the right thing but now I am in doubt.”

But 42-year-old Qing Cao, also a pseudonym, from Guangzhou said she had no doubt: She had lost all faith in the central government.

She believed in the novel coronavirus eradication and willingly gave up much of her social life, including traveling and visiting relatives, to protect the weak and elderly in Chinese society.

Her grandmother succumbed to the virus at the end of December.

“After all these sacrifices, the government decided to open up very quickly and now everyone is getting sick and many are dying,” Qing Cao said.

“So what are the years of suffering if we are all going to get the virus anyway?”

Leave a Comment