China Pledges to Pressure “Enemy Powers” While Openly Testing Xi

BEIJING (AP) — China’s ruling Communist Party has pledged to “resolutely crack down on the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces” after the largest street demonstrations in decades by citizens fed up with strict anti-virus restrictions.

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission’s statement late Tuesday came amid a massive show of strength by the security services to deter a repeat of the protests that broke out over the weekend in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and many other cities.

While it doesn’t address the protests directly, the statement reminds of the party’s determination to enforce its rule.

Hundreds of SUVs, vans and armored vehicles with flashing lights were parked on the city streets on Wednesday as police and paramilitary forces indiscriminately conducted ID checks and searched people’s cell phones for photos, banned apps or other possible evidence of their participation in demonstrations.

The number of those detained during the demonstrations and subsequent police operations is unknown.

While reports and footage of the protests circulated online before being cleared by government censors, they were completely ignored by the tightly controlled state media.

Further distracting was the national news Wednesday evening dominated by the death of former president and Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin at the age of 96.

Jiang was appointed leader in 1989 just before the bloody suppression of Beijing’s pro-democracy student-led movement based in Tiananmen Square, and then presided over a period of extreme economic growth while maintaining solid party control in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Following the commission’s extended session Monday, chaired by the party’s 24-member Politburo member, Chen Wenqing, the meeting was intended to review the results of the party convention on October 20, the Commission said in a statement.

In that event, Xi granted himself a third five-year term as general secretary, making him potentially China’s lifetime leader, while stacking key bodies with loyalists and eliminating dissenting voices.

“At the meeting it was stressed that political and legal bodies … must take effective measures to resolutely maintain national security and social stability,” the statement said.

“We must resolutely deal with the infiltration and sabotage activities of the enemy forces in accordance with the law, decisively strike the illegal and criminal acts that disrupt the social order, and effectively maintain the general social stability,” the statement said.

Yet, less than a month after seemingly securing his political future and unrivaled dominance, Xi, who has signaled his allegiance to regime stability, faces his biggest public challenge yet.

He and his party have yet to directly address the unrest that has spread to university campuses and the southern semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, fueling sympathy protests abroad.

Many of the protesters focused their anger on the “zero COVID” policy, which has placed millions in isolation and quarantine, restricting their access to food and medicine, while devastating the economy and severely restricting travel. as well as allegations that “foreign hostile foreign powers” fueled the wave of anger.

Yet bolder voices have urged more freedom and democracy, and China’s most powerful leader and the party he has led for decades, to resign – speech that is devastating and punishable by long prison sentences. Some held up blank pieces of white paper to show that they were deprived of their right to freedom of expression.

Weekend protests flared in anger after at least 10 people were killed in a fire in far west China on November 24.

Authorities eased some controls after the demonstrations and announced a new move to inoculate vulnerable groups, but stressed that they would stick to a “zero COVID” strategy.

The party had already promised to reduce disruptions last month, but the spike in infections prompted party cadres to tighten controls under intense pressure to prevent outbreaks. The National Health Commission reported on Wednesday that 37,612 cases had been detected in the last 24 hours, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,233.

Tsinghua University in Beijing and other schools in the capital and southern Guangdong province, where students held protests over the weekend, sent students home in an obvious attempt to de-escalate tensions. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, hotbeds of activism, including the Tiananmen protests.

The police seemed to be trying to keep their pressure out of sight, possibly to avoid emboldening others by pointing out the scale of the protests. Videos and posts about the protests on Chinese social media were deleted by the party’s extensive online censorship apparatus.

“Zero COVID” has helped keep the number of cases lower than in the United States and other major countries, but global health experts, including the head of the World Health Organization, are increasingly saying that this is unsustainable. China has described the comments as irresponsible.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, the head of the International Monetary Fund said Beijing needed to make its approach “multi-targeted” to mitigate the economic disruption.

But economists and health experts warn Beijing cannot relax the controls that keep most travelers out of China until tens of millions of older people are vaccinated. They say this means “zero COVID” may not be over for another year.

US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns on Wednesday said the restrictions, among other things, made it impossible for US diplomats to meet with American prisoners held in China as required by international agreement. Due to the lack of commercial airline flights into the country, the embassy has to use monthly charter flights to transport its staff in and out.

“COVID really dominates every aspect of life in China,” he said in an online discussion with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Regarding the protests, Burns said the embassy was observing their progress and the government’s response, but said, “We believe the Chinese people have the right to protest peacefully.”

“They have the right to express their views. They have a right to be heard. This is a fundamental right worldwide. It should be. And this right cannot be blocked or interfered with,” he said.

Burns also referred to the Chinese police harassing and detaining foreign correspondents covering the protests.

We support freedom of expression as well as freedom of the press.”

When asked about foreign expressions of support for the protesters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended China’s approach to combating COVID-19 and said other nations should mind their own business.

“We hope they will listen to the voice and interests of their own people first, rather than blaming others,” Zhao told reporters at the daily briefing.

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