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Chinese Communist Party plans to avoid zero covid reckoning

Aacross china, families are enduring avoidable pain and heartbreak as loved ones die from a deadly and predictable wave of covid-19 infections for which their rulers were not prepared. Some overseas analysts speak of a turning point. They wonder whether today’s policy chaos, following the anti-lockdown protests of late 2022, heralds a crisis of legitimacy for President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party.

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This is a grim moment for the Chinese people. Despite claims that infections have peaked in big cities like Beijing, unfortunately, many more will die when the virus finds elderly people who are now hiding at home or living in the countryside. The shameful death toll was avoidable. However, Xi Jinping may not pay a clear price for the horrors of the pandemic during his tenure.

Many outsiders were taken aback by the Chinese public’s widespread tolerance for zero covid control, especially during the first two years of the pandemic. Even the months-long lockdown of nearly 25 million people in Shanghai in the spring of 2022 was dismissed by many other Chinese. Zero-covid is essentially a giant utilitarian experiment. In a large country with a weak health system, its draconian, often arbitrary controls have literally saved lives. Most of the time, in most parts of China, life is relatively normal. The suffering of the less fortunate living in closed cities or dragged to isolation camps is not much discussed or (due to censorship) widely known.

The best explanations for the unplanned end of zero-covid involve similar numerical trade-offs. As the virulence of Omicron variants disrupts life and disrupts economies in too many places, oases of normality shrink and dangerously large public groups grow weary of controls that are no longer effective. The protests are a testament to that exhaustion. But in fact, the authorities lost control of the new crown virus before the demonstrators took to the streets.

The party’s information monopoly helps conceal how it wasted 2022 by failing to boost vaccination rates or get hospitals ready.There is no objection or freedom of the press to challenge the NHC’s sudden statement, in People’s Daily On Jan. 3, the country had 12.8 intensive care beds per 100,000 people, though the commission said in November it had fewer than four intensive care beds per 100,000 people. China calls the two indigenous vaccines “comprehensive vaccination”; most Chinese are unaware that a World Health Organization chief said last month that the dose was “just not enough,” especially for people over 60.

Nationalism continues to produce bad policy. On Jan. 3, China’s foreign ministry rejected an EU offer to donate an advanced vaccine tweaked to deal with Omicron. A spokesman snapped that China’s vaccine supply was “adequate.” A day earlier, the Chinese embassy in Paris questioned the import of mribonucleic acid The vaccines are more effective than the Chinese ones (although they do save lives). The embassy reiterated an anti-vaxxer thread, mocking the Pfizer boss who contracted covid twice after receiving his own company’s vaccine. In fact, no one claims that mribonucleic acid Injections can prevent mild infections.

The party has worked hard to paint outsiders seeking transparency as hostile and malevolent. In verifying reports of covid deaths far exceeding official statistics, economist This week, a colleague was scolded by a staff member near a crematorium in Beijing. The man was angry from the bottom of his heart, saying that death was a private matter, and told foreigners to “report something positive” with a clichéd catchphrase.

Public opinion is not monolithic. For example, state media’s online cheerleading reports of heroic doctors and nurses coexist with widespread public cynicism about official epidemic statistics and suspicion that many pharmacies and clinics have recently run out of even basic fever-reducing medicines.

Still, most urban Chinese under the age of 40 know only that living in an increasingly prosperous and powerful country is a unifying experience. The party has relentlessly exploited that pride. A few months ago, the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, a very valuable propaganda research center, found a revealing official commentary in the defense of zero new crown virus. Reposted online by the party’s main media, it revives a long-forgotten argument made by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1953.Mao Zedong, who was impatient with party elders over Chinese intervention in the Korean War and imposed high taxes on farmers, dismissed Little Ren Zheng, or small goodwill, worrying about pressing issues, such as taxes, followed beat up, or in other words, be merciful and compassionate, and give the broad masses of the people a motherland to resist US imperialism. The commentary said that the sacrifice of zero coronavirus is a model of great benevolence for the long-term interests of the people.

Dictator’s definition of benevolence

Xi Jinping seems to share the same logic. In a televised address at the end of the year, he nodded to the “grave challenges” of a new phase of coronavirus management before turning to the glory of living in a rising China, hailing everything from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to new spaceships and warships. He then praised the hard work of the early Communist revolutionaries, noting his favorite saying: “Grinding makes jade more refined, and suffering makes people stronger.”

Xi’s indifference to suffering in the midst of a great cause is chilling, because the same logic could be used to justify the most brutal whim of any dictator. It’s also a bet that China’s national rise, his central claim to legitimacy, will continue. Expect the party to trumpet that the country is rapidly returning to economic growth as covid controls disappear, and to censor and demonize anyone who exposes its mistakes. Officials have vainly boasted about the new “people first, life first” policy while busy covering up unnecessary deaths. Xi may still face unimaginable costs in terms of public trust in his rule. But if the party retains absolute power after the memory of covid fades, that’s a deal.

Read more from our China columnist Chaguan:
The politics of Xi Jinping’s covid retreat (December 15)
Deathpolitics in China (December 8)
Lessons from China’s Protests (December 1)

Subscribers can sign up to our new weekly newsletter, The Drum Tower, to learn how the world shapes China — and how China shapes the world. All of our stories related to the pandemic can be found in our Coronavirus Hub.

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