Opinion – China’s anti zero covid policy protest sends signal to dictators not to push the envelope too far

Authoritarian rulers across the world are starting to get a glimpse of what it means to oppress their population to the breaking point as thousands start to turn out in various Chinese cities to protest against the highly unpopular ‘zero covid’ policy starts to boil down to protests on the streets.

The past weekend has been an interesting one as demonstrations against the all-powerful Xi Jinping’s government have spread to larger cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.

The demonstrations, far smaller than the April-June 1989 protests seen in Tiananmen Square, are still significant as it is the 1st time since 1989 that people in the mainland have come out to gather and even call for the stepping down of the all-powerful Xi who was coronated for the special 3rd term just months ago.

Chinese presidents, who have a 2-term limit until last month when Xi became the 1st to be coronated to being the 1st president who got the 3rd term, over more than 3 decades, have not seen anything like this since the Tiananmen protest movement.

As Xi purged his competition in the name of ‘corruption’ cleansing, all mighty Xi had not anticipated that a protest movement from the ordinary people would be something that would prop up.

After all, he and his puppet government in Hong Kong managed to crush the student protest movement that lasted nearly 2-years and has put the leaders and those very vocal into jail. Even the media outlets that were pro-democracy were shut down.

All this happened while Hong Kong was still supposedly under the treaty that allowed 1 country and 2 systems. The 2 systems have now fallen apart and are only something as a namesake.


But the weekend demonstrations, albeit small, has hopefully reignited the hope that such protest could get out of control, sooner if not later.

The tendency of protest is usually that some brave turn out to protest and then others follow. That was the reason why the demonstration in Shanghai on Sunday was beyond the control of the police force.

The protests were reported in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and other major cities. The protest erupted after nearly a dozen people were burnt to death in Urumqi in an apartment as the lockdown had the doors locked and victims could not escape the fire.

The restrictions were so that those calling for help were not offered help.

The incident that could have been avoided had such strict rules not been in place has prompted people to come out to protest and go as far as to call for Xi to step down from the position, an unprecedented call in a country that has had very few protests in the past few decades.

All this could well be a blip for Xi, who is known for his heavy-handed approach to tackling dissents, but such a move would make him even more unpopular.

Covid-19 Mismanagement

The fact that the strict Covid-19 protocol in China was able to keep the country safe for so long after the 1st wave of the Wuhan outbreak that was detected in early 2020, is now considered a bygone means to handle the virus.

The world has opened and vaccination was forced upon people across the world. The initial vaccines that were effective against the Wuhan strain, were ineffective against the Delta variant and all variants thereafter.

The Chinese were effective in producing their Sinovac and Sinopharm that were effective against the Wuhan variant but the recent outbreak and rise in death numbers as the Chinese have not had messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines.

The mRNA vaccines have helped avoid the severity of the cases across the world and travel around the world would show that many countries have already started not even wearing masks in public areas.

Xi on the other hand is not wearing masks when he travels outside as was evident from his greeting of him in Bangkok for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting earlier this month.

The same does not apply in China, where people are still forced to wear masks, they are being locked down and forced to do PCR tests to make sure that they are not infected with Covid.

The issue has been further worsened by the fact that the Chinese have not managed to develop their own effective mRNA vaccine yet and have also not imported mRNA vaccines from global makers for reasons yet unknown.

Other countries that failed in their quest for procurement of vaccines have also faced a similar fate.

Thailand’s 2014 coup leader and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had a major uphill battle when it came to procuring vaccines for the nearly 70 million Thais. A move that nearly brought his popularity down to the ground.

Lesson For Dictators

The fact that people have come out to stand against the likes of Xi is a big deal and is a clear indication that if people are pushed to the wall, they will eventually stand up for what they feel is wrong.

Thais were protesting on the streets when the junta leader Prayut was unable to procure vaccines for the people. The heavy-handed approach that Prayut used to crush the protest movement has only put the protest movement in hibernation mode and it could and may reignite any time in the near future.

Currently, the Prayut government is starting to do things that are right and that is also one of the reasons why the protestors do not have that many excuses to go on the street to protest. After nearly a year of calls, the Prayut government finally came out to open the country’s borders which helped revive the economy.

In countries such as Cambodia and Laos, the country’s governments have to a great degree managed the pandemic situation in a much better manner and therefore people are not that resentful although the same thing cannot be said about Myanmar.

But all said and done, the ongoing protest in a country where a protest was not expected in the 1st place, is a big deal and it goes to show that even the most powerful leader could start to lose grip of power if they do not follow the rules or oppress the people to a breaking point.


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