China tightens security after rare COVID curb protests

  • Shanghai, Beijing police make presence visible on streets
  • No sign of new protests in Beijing, Shanghai on Monday
  • Backlash is a setback to efforts to eradicate the virus
  • News of the protests has shaken global markets

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Nov 28 (Reuters) – Police patrolled the scenes of weekend protests in Shanghai and Beijing on Monday after crowds there and in other cities across China demonstrated against strict COVID-19 measures that disrupted lives three years into the pandemic.

From the streets of several Chinese cities to dozens of university campuses, protesters demonstrated a civil disobedience unprecedented since leader Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago. During his tenure, Xi has overseen the quashing of dissent and the expansion of a high-tech social surveillance system that has made protesting more difficult and risky.

“We object to these restrictions on people’s rights in the name of virus prevention, and the restrictions on people’s individual freedom and livelihoods,” said Jason Sun, a student in Shanghai.

There were no signs of new protests in Beijing or Shanghai on Monday, but dozens of police officers were present in the areas where the weekend demonstrations took place.

Asked about the widespread anger over China’s zero-COVID policy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters, “What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened.

“We believe that with the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the cooperation and support of the Chinese people, our fight against COVID-19 will be successful.”

The backlash against COVID curbs is a setback to China’s efforts to eradicate the virus, which is infecting record numbers three years after it emerged in the central city of Wuhan.

The zero-COVID policy has kept China’s official death toll in the thousands, against more than a million in the United States, but has come at the cost of confining many millions to long periods at home, causing major disruption and damage to ‘ the world’s second largest economy.

Giving it up would mean reversing a policy championed by Xi. It would also risk overwhelming the health system and leading to widespread illness and deaths in a country with hundreds of millions of elderly people and low levels of immunity to COVID, experts say.

The protests rocked global markets on Monday, sending oil prices lower and the dollar higher, while Chinese equities (.CSI300) and the yuan fell sharply.

State media did not report the protests, but editorials urged citizens to abide by COVID rules. Many analysts say China is unlikely to reopen before March or April and that an effective vaccination campaign is needed to do so.

“The demonstrations do not pose an immediate threat to the existing political order, but they do mean that the current COVID policy mix is ​​no longer politically sustainable,” Gavekal Dragonomics analysts wrote in a note.

“The question now is what reopening will look like. The answer is: slow, step-by-step and messy.”

BLUE BARRIERS

Late Sunday, protesters clashed with police in Shanghai’s commercial hub, where 25 million people were trapped at home in April and May, while security forces cleared a busload of people.

On Monday, the streets of Shanghai where protesters gathered were blocked with blue metal barriers to prevent crowds from gathering. Police officers in high-visibility vests patrolled in pairs, as police cars and motorcycles passed by.

Shops and cafes in the area were asked to close, an employee of one told Reuters.

While China’s COVID policies have remained a major source of uncertainty for investors, they are also now being watched for signs of political instability, something many of them hadn’t considered in authoritarian China, where Xi recently ran for a third leadership term. secured.

Martin Petch, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service, said the rating agency expected the protests to “dissipate relatively quickly and without leading to serious political violence”.

“However, they have the potential to be credit negative if sustained and trigger a stronger response from authorities.”

URUMQI FIRE

The catalyst for the protests was an apartment fire in the western city of Urumqi last week that killed 10 people. Many speculated that COVID sidewalks in the city, parts of which had been closed for 100 days, had hindered rescue and escape, which city officials denied.

Crowds in Urumqi took to the streets on Friday. Over the weekend, protesters in Wuhan and Lanzhou, among others, toppled COVID testing facilities, as students gathered on campuses across China.

Solidarity demonstrations have also been held in at least a dozen cities around the world. read more

Discussion of the protests, as well as photos and footage, led to a cat-and-mouse game between social media users and censors.

In Beijing after midnight on Sunday, large crowds of peaceful people gathered on a ring road of the city, some holding blank sheets of paper as a symbol of protest.

On Sunday, some demonstrators in Shanghai briefly chanted anti-Xi slogans, almost unheard of in a country where Xi has held a level of power unseen since the era of Mao Zedong.

As anger over the COVID rules simmered, some spoke out against people taking to the streets.

“These actions will disrupt public order,” said 26-year-old Adam Yan. “It is best to believe in the government.”

Reporting by Martin Pollard and Casey Hall; Written by Marius Zaharia and Brenda Goh; Edited by Tony Munroe and Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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