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China relaxes ‘zero-COVID’ policy as Xi Jinping’s ‘rare display of weakness’, says Tiananmen Square protester

China deploys riot police in hazmat suits to crack down on COVID protests
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Chinese President Xi Jinping is showing a “rare show of weakness” as Beijing seeks to reverse some of its more extreme anti-COVID-19 policies, according to a former leader of the Tiananmen Square protest.

“It’s hard to predict the outcome of the protests now,” Zhou Fengsuo, a human rights activist and former student leader during the Tiananmen Square protests, told Newsweek. “But we are already seeing some relaxation of the ‘zero-COVID’ policywhich is a rare display of weakness by Xi Jinping.”

The protests have spread to several cities in China as residents reject the country’s strict “zero-COVID” policy, in which local governments would lock down cities and enforce mass testing after detecting just a few cases of the virus. COVID-19.

Politics limited number of deaths fewer than 6,000 among its population of 1.4 billion, but residents have grown tired of the severe limitations the rules place on their lives three years after the virus first spread.

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Officials in the Xinjiang region over the weekend began to loosen restrictions in areas with low community spread, stating that they had basically achieved “a social ‘COVID zero’.” Experts believe that Beijing has reversed course to help quell the protests.

Former Tiananmen student leader Fengsuo Zhou testifies during a hearing before the Congressional Executive Committee on China on June 4, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC The committee held a hearing on June 4, 2019. "Tiananmen at 30: examining the evolution of repression in China."

Former Tiananmen student leader Fengsuo Zhou testifies during a hearing before the Congressional Executive Commission on China on June 4, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC The commission held a hearing on “Tiananmen at 30: Examining Evolution of repression in China”.
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

However, the protests continued to spread across social media in a rare span of China’s censorship network, with videos appearing on Twitter and TikTok. showing demonstrations in the cities through the country.

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Some of the protests have included chants against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which Zhou applauded as part of “going through a baptism of political activism.”

Chinese student leaders hold a candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington on June 3 to mark the seventh anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.  The students who led the Tiananmen protests later fled China, pictured from left to right: Liu Gang, Zhou Fengsuo, Chen Tong and Wuer Kaixi.

Chinese student leaders hold a candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington on June 3 to mark the seventh anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. The students who led the Tiananmen protests later fled China, pictured from left to right: Liu Gang, Zhou Fengsuo, Chen Tong and Wuer Kaixi.
(Richard Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

“As a survivor of the Tiananmen massacre, I am crying as I watch protesters chant ‘end the CCP’ in Shanghai, the birthplace of the CCP,” Zhou said.

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“Xi Jinping is still in full control within the CCP. But his tight control also means that the system cannot deal with surprises because his subordinates are unwilling to take initiatives without explicit instructions from Xi,” Zhou argued. “Also, the ‘zero-COVID’ system is already exhausted. But at this stage, it is still entrenched.”

A person holds a banner during a protest in solidarity over the COVID-19 restrictions in mainland China, during a commemoration for the victims of a fire in Urumqi outside the Chinese consulate in Toronto on November 29, 2022.

A person holds a banner during a protest in solidarity over the COVID-19 restrictions in mainland China, during a commemoration for the victims of a fire in Urumqi outside the Chinese consulate in Toronto on November 29, 2022.
(REUTERS/Chris Helgren)

Experts have speculated that Beijing’s policies are unsustainablebut that the government cannot completely reverse its policies until a larger part of the population is vaccinated, which means that “zero-COVID” can remain for up to another year.

In Beijing, some local neighborhoods allow residents with mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to self-isolate at home rather than report to large quarantine facilities.

China’s foreign ministry defended its response to the virus, saying “facts have shown that China’s epidemic response measures are science-based, correct and effective,” adding that the US fingers it.

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Xi’s government has vowed to reduce the disruption to its “zero-COVID” strategy by shortening lockdowns and making other changes. However, he says he will stick to restrictions that have repeatedly closed schools and businesses and cut off access to neighborhoods.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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