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China warns ‘zero covid’ protesters against harsh crackdown

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Chinese authorities have warned of a sweeping crackdown on ‘zero covid’ protesters and security forces have been carrying out random checks on the streets of major cities, amid widespread confusion over whether Beijing is serious about trying to stop them. easing its toughest anti-coronavirus measures.

Communist Party leaders, who had otherwise avoided directly mentioning mass rallies challenging their zero covid policy, said for the first time that they would resolutely “resolutely suppress” the protests.

Chen Wenqing, a former intelligence officer who is a senior official of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the Communist Party’s top decision-making body for law enforcement policy, said on Tuesday that authorities would act against “the undercover and sabotage activities by hostile forces as well as illegal or criminal acts that disrupt social order.

Nationwide protests in major cities began last week after a deadly fire in the far northwest region of Xinjiang. Many Chinese believe the tragedy was made worse because first responders were slowed down by distancing measures; local authorities deny the allegations. But three years of living with draconian shutdowns, mass testing and the risk of being sent to spartan centralized quarantine facilities sent many to the brink, sparking extremely rare protests that sometimes called for the ouster of the Communist Party.

Chen’s warning, coupled with the detention of suspected protesters and an increased police presence in major cities, came as protests largely died down on Monday and Tuesday.

Two people in Shanghai told the Washington Post that their colleagues and relatives were questioned by police earlier this week after they joined weekend protests against the zero covid policy, which also served as a vigil for the 10 people. died in the Xinjiang fire.

A protester was held incommunicado for 24 hours from Monday to Tuesday morning as his family and colleagues frantically searched for him. He was released from a police station early Tuesday, said Chen, a colleague who attended the protests with him.

With record covid cases, China scrambles to fill immunity gap

Yang, a 27-year-old man who attended a weekend rally in the resort town of Dali where people marched through downtown streets and sang the protest anthem “The International”, said stated that he had been visited by police at his home. Three of his friends, who were students at a local university, were ordered by their school to provide written accounts of their activities or face expulsion.

“For me it was just a verbal warning from the police,” he said. “I told them that I was a true patriot and that I did everything only because I wanted my country to improve.”

The people spoke to the Washington Post on the condition that only their last names be used, for fear of state reprisals.

In Beijing and Shanghai, police checked the phones of people near protest sites for the Telegram messaging app and virtual private networks, according to a WeChat post Wednesday from Qu Weiguo, an English professor at the University. Fudan from Shanghai. Protesters had used these internet services to avoid censors and circumvent China’s Great Firewall. Qu’s post appears to have been deleted by censors less than an hour after it was posted.

China tightened its already rigid censorship regime after a major Communist Party meeting last month. Under regulations that will come into effect on December 15, users who reposting or simply posting as a message that authorities deem harmful could face penalties such as account suspension, although it is unclear how this would be implemented. Access to super apps such as WeChat, which have functions beyond social media, is considered essential for everyday urban life in China.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a news conference on Tuesday that Chinese citizens “have the right to protest peacefully without fear.” She said she had no new information after a reporter asked if the United States planned to use tools to help Chinese internet users bypass the Great Firewall.

Chinese nationalist commentators have suggested, without providing evidence, that Western governments orchestrated the recent rallies. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday criticized the British Broadcasting Corp. for his coverage of China, asking if “it’s the job of BBC journalists to report news or fabricate news?” The broadcaster said Chinese authorities beat and briefly detained one of its reporters who was covering a protest on Sunday.

For many Chinese, mixed messages about covid control measures have added to the confusion. The Communist Party recently said it would seek to reduce the burden of anti-coronavirus measures on daily life, although it has not offered a roadmap and local officials are still under pressure to curb transmission. spread of the virus.

Find out what drove protesters to a breaking point with China’s ‘zero covid’ policy

The Zhengzhou manufacturing center, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, announced late Tuesday that it would lift the lockdown. Hours later, however, it released a list of 1,531 high-risk residential compounds that would still be under tight restrictions. The local government has listed only 15 low-risk compounds in the entire city.

And while the city of Chengdu in the southwest of the country has canceled the construction of a 10,000-bed centralized quarantine facility, the eastern province of Shandong is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build temporary hospitals and quarantine facilities that can accommodate more than 200,000 people, according to a Chinese financial publication. Caijing reported on Tuesday.

Shanghai Disney Resort, which has been closed several times this year, said it would temporarily close again on Tuesday – just four days after it reopened on November 25.

The disorderly way authorities have handled the pandemic this year has been a major drag on China’s economy. Manufacturing activity contracted further in November, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. According to Qichacha, a Chinese business data provider, more restaurants closed in the first half of 2022 than in all of 2021.

“When I saw the youths chanting slogans that night, I was moved,” said Xu, a restaurant owner in the central city of Changsha, who asked to be identified only by his surname. “It occurred to me, my place is going bankrupt not because I haven’t worked hard enough. No one will come here if the checks continue.

Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.

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