Back to the anger movement that is gaining China

If the time of confinement and curfews already seems distant in France, it remains relevant in China. For three years, Beijing has applied a drastic zero Covid policy which involves very strict measures for residents, such as confinement requiring the slightest case of coronavirus detected in a city and almost daily PCR tests of the population. Today, another six million people are confined.

For several months, demonstrations in different sectors and different cities have erupted because of these drastic restrictions, but for two days, anger has spread to the big cities, where the inhabitants now even dare to demand the departure of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Starting from a fed up with health measures, the protest movement has therefore expanded against censorship and to demand more freedoms. Back to the last two days, when the big cities of Shanghai or Beijing were the scene of this movement of anger of historic proportions.

What’s happening in China?

The Chinese population has been in turmoil for several months, but the pan seems to have boiled over in recent days. On Sunday, a crowd of demonstrators, responding to calls on social networks, took to the streets in particular in Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, catching the police off guard. Sometimes very violent clashes with the police have been observed. Arrests of demonstrators have been reported, while demonstrating is punishable by life imprisonment, recalled the 8 p.m. news from TF1 on Sunday.

Almost unpublished images reach France via social networks. Crowds of demonstrators brandishing white signs to denounce censorship, violent clashes with the police and eloquent slogans against the regime: “No Covid tests, we are hungry! », « Xi Jinping, resign! CCP (Chinese Communist Party), Withdraw! or “No to confinements, we want freedom”. Demonstrations also took place in Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong. By its extent on the territory, the mobilization seems the most important since the pro-democracy rallies of 1989, harshly repressed.

Why such a popular uprising?

This mobilization is the culmination of a popular discontent that has been simmering for months in China in the face of health restrictions and the zero Covid policy applied for almost three years. It was the deadly fire that occurred in Urumqi on November 24, capital of Xinjiang province (Northwest), which catalyzed the anger of many Chinese. Some accuse health restrictions of having blocked the work of the relief workers. At least 10 people died. Perhaps a sign of a desire for appeasement, these restrictions have finally been relaxed in this city where, from Tuesday, residents will be able to travel by bus to do their shopping and parcel deliveries can resume.

the People’s Daily published a text on Monday warning against “paralysis” and “weariness” in the face of this strict health policy, without however calling for an end to it. “People have now reached a boiling point because there is no clear direction on the way forward to end the zero Covid policy,” policy expert Alfred Wu Muluan told AFP. Chinese at the National University of Singapore. “The party underestimated the anger of the population,” he adds. The demonstrations finally brought out demands for more political freedoms, even for the departure of President Xi Jinping, who had just been reappointed for an unprecedented third term at the head of the country.

How does the regime react?

As in any self-respecting authoritarian regime, the first response to demonstrations is repression, the use of force and arrests in the face of often pacifist demonstrators and the gagging of demands. Monday morning, a police presence was thus visible in Beijing and Shanghai, near the places of gatherings the day before. In Shanghai, one of the streets occupied by the crowd during the night was now surrounded by palisades to prevent any new gathering.

During the day, three people were arrested near Urumqi Street, at the very spot where a demonstration took place on Sunday. BBC China reporter covering protests in Shanghai arrested and ‘beaten by police’ according to the British media. In Beijing, a demonstration planned for Monday at the end of the day was discouraged by the strong police presence at the meeting place, in the district of Haidian. Police vehicles lined the road leading to the Sitong Bridge, where a man had unfurled banners against Xi Jinping last month before being arrested. The demonstrators had planned to join this bridge, the day after a mobilization of more than 400 people near the Liangma River, with cries in particular of “We are all inhabitants of Xinjiang! “.

The strict control of the Chinese authorities on information and the health restrictions on travel within the country also complicate the verification of the total number of demonstrators during the weekend. On Chinese social media, any information about the protests appeared to have been erased on Monday. On the Weibo platform, a sort of Chinese Twitter, searches for “Liangma River” and “Urumqi Street” yielded no results related to the mobilization.

Another reaction of the Chinese regime: to denounce a plot at the origin of the protests. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has thus accused “forces with hidden motivations” of establishing a link between this fire and “the local response to Covid-19”, according to its spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

And the international community?

Already at odds with Beijing, Washington insisted on Monday on the right of the Chinese people to demonstrate. “We have long said that everyone has the right to peaceful protest, here in the United States and around the world,” said a State Department spokesperson. “This includes China,” he said in a statement. And the spokesperson for American diplomacy to criticize the strategy adopted by China to control the virus: “We believe that it will be very difficult for China to contain the virus with their zero Covid strategy, he said. concluded. It will be very difficult to maintain confinements and zero Covid. »

Several international leaders and organizations have called for this right to demonstrate to be respected, such as the United Nations (UN). “We call on the authorities to respond to the protests in accordance with international human rights laws and standards,” said a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jeremy Laurence, adding: “No one should to be arbitrarily detained for peacefully expressing his views”. “I understand that people express their impatience and their grievances in the streets,” said the German head of state, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a moral authority in Germany. “As a Democrat, I can say that free speech is an important public good,” he added.

Finally, the world’s largest public service media alliance, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), has condemned “attacks” on journalists covering protests against health restrictions in China. In a press release, this organization, whose headquarters is in Geneva, “condemns in the strongest terms the intolerable intimidation and attacks against journalists and the production teams of EBU members in China”. The EBU stresses that the situation is becoming “increasingly volatile”. “We hope to receive an official explanation of these disturbing incidents from the relevant authorities, in order to understand how we can continue to guarantee safe working conditions for journalists based in China,” added Eric Scherer, chairman of the news committee of the press. EBU.

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