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Zero Covid: A Dystopian Reality Deconstructed

China’s remorseless battle against Covid-19, the ‘People’s War’ as coined by Xi Jinping, persisted until early last week as the country’s ‘Zero Covid’ policy came to an end.


Whilst Covid cases continue to affect many parts of China, like Guangzhou and Shanghai, the end of China’s Zero Covid policy means that China, like the rest of the world, has to learn how to live with Covid-19. Xi Jinping’s desire to maintain absolute control over his people by implementing state-wide lockdowns, mass testing and border quarantines, has failed. Zero Covid, in return, served to cripple the Chinese economy, ruin the livelihoods of innocent civilians, and infringe on individual liberties and freedoms. Thus, China has to conform to the western approach to Covid-19 in the midst of widespread unrest.


Though, what does the rapid reversal of Zero Covid tell us about how well-governed China actually is? And will this policy reversal set back progress in the West?


Demonstrations Against Zero COVID

Prior to the quick reversal of the CCP’s Zero Covid policy, there was a general expression of opposition against the imposition of China’s control over its civilians. This meant that protests erupted across China, which saw grievances demanding more freedoms and liberties under the CCP’s stronghold. However, civilians were keen to avoid arrest and demonstrated against the regime by holding blank pieces of paper to show their disapproval. For observers, this stresses the inability of Chinese citizens to speak freely without persecution as the demand for freedom is equally as demanding as the need for silence.


Since the pandemic, there has been more rebellion against Xi Jinping as he has expanded the CCP’s grip over the population more than what Mao Zedong had previously attained. This paints a frightening picture of the future of China, and the growing dissatisfaction which continues to threaten the position of the CCP.


Zero Covid violates the longstanding social contract that the party maintained with its people after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Essentially, this social contract saw Beijing compose an implicit bargain – in exchange for limitations on political freedoms, the people would receive stability and comfort. However, this promise has been squashed by the implementation of Zero Covid, leaving many homeless, dead, or hungry due to the continued lockdowns which have affected over a third of the Chinese population.


Whilst the government have tried to blunt public outrage by easing restrictions, which saw some lockdowns lifted in Guangzhou, it is clear that the government have not acted in line with their social contract, offering a fading promise to its people. Now that people are expressing their dissatisfaction with the party’s repressive monopoly on power, what comes next for the CCP and Jinping?


Reversing Zero COVID

Surprising to many, the CCP reacted to widespread unrest by reversing its Zero Covid policy, meeting the demands made by the Chinese population. This is a shocking contradiction to the narrative that Xi projected, as he perceived the policy to legitimise his success as a leader. Could this sudden reversal be seen as a failure?


At the recent Communist Party Congress, Xi defended his Zero Covid strategy vigorously which means that this reversal may be an admission of failure. Though the reversal of Zero Covid is beneficial for the population as well as the economy, it must be noted that due to China’s failure to conform to the ‘living with Covid’ strategy, its vaccination rate is lower than most other countries. So, whilst this remains a success for the people of China and a clear failure of the CCP, this could serve to create more problems for the West, than to act as a solution.


Impact on the World

Whilst China’s policy reversal can be seen as a roaring success for its population, this can translate to widespread fear for most of the world. Though Zero Covid served to damage the Chinese economy, and the livelihoods of its people and saw a greater extension of authoritarian control, a policy reversal could risk the loss of life, economic damage, and the emergence of new variants in other parts of the world.


As China has been slow to adapt to a world of more infective variants and mass vaccination in comparison to its neighbours, less containment will have a detrimental impact on the progress set forth by the West. In the aftermath of the protests, Vice Premier, Sun Chunlan, suddenly declared that the Omicron variant was not as dangerous as it was made to be. This was later supported by Xi himself, contradicting concerns raised by the West in concern to the spread of Omicron, posing a dangerous position against the virus.


Thus, the CCP’s reversal of Zero Covid could overestimate the authorities’ ability to contain the virus if it begins to run rampant, posing great danger to the rest of the world who have made great progress, which could be set back by the CCP’s ignorance.


This is a China where Xi Jinping demands power and glory, but he’ll also get all the blame from the rest of the world.

 

Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.

 

References/ Further Reading:

[1] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/china/xi-shattered-illusion-control-protests-revive-chinese-dissent


[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/12/zero-covids-failure-is-xi-jinpings-failure/672422/


[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/nov/28/china-abandon-zero-covid-protests-mass-vaccination


[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/04/world/asia/china-xi-jinping-covid-zero.html

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