Public protests in China related to the government’s COVID-19 restrictions have hit the news worldwide over the weekend, following a fatal apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, last week which killed 10 people. Many internet users claimed some residents could not escape because the apartment building was partially locked down, though authorities denied this.
There have been reports some demonstrators have called for President Xi Jinping, the newly re-elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China, to stand down. Others have criticized the rule of the party itself. China’s COVID measures are among the strictest in the world, as it continues to pursue lockdowns to suppress the virus—what it calls a “dynamic zero COVID” policy. Also read: China’s strict zero-COVID policy isn’t worth the damage it does to its economy
In a show of defiance, crowds in China gathered for the third night as protests against Covid restrictions spread to Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. People held blank sheets of paper, symbolizing censorship, and demanded the Chinese president step down. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
While these protests are certainly serious challenges to authority, they should be kept in perspective. In particular, there’s no real parallel to those in Tiananmen Square in 1989. These are street protests where the demonstrators disperse after marching and protesting, and the main focus of the protests are the COVID restrictions rather than wider political principles. The main issue here is frustration not just with COVID restrictions, but the inconsistent ways these measures are being implemented. At least in the short-term, the state’s reactions are likely to be muted. There’s undoubtedly pressure for change, though how this will be achieved is hard to predict.