China vows to crush ‘enemy forces’ as it publicly tests Xi

China vows to crush ‘enemy forces’ as it publicly tests Xi

BEIJING (AP) – China’s ruling Communist Party has vowed to “resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage by enemy forces,” following the biggest street demonstrations in decades by citizens fed up with strict anti-virus restrictions. A massive show of force by security services on Wednesday tried to deter further protests.

This was followed by a statement from the Central Commission for Political-Legal Issues published late on Tuesday protests that broke out over the weekend in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and several other cities.

Although she did not directly address the protests, the statement was a reminder of the party’s determination to enforce its rule.

Hundreds of SUVs, vans and armored vehicles with flashing lights were parked on the city’s streets as police and paramilitary forces conducted random ID checks and searched people’s cellphones for photos, banned apps or other potential evidence that they had taken part in the demonstrations.

The number of those detained at the demonstrations and in the subsequent police actions is not known.

While reports and videos of the protests flourished online before being purged by government censors, the tightly controlled state media completely ignored them.

A further distraction was Wednesday night’s national news in which he dominated the death of former president and Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin at the age of 96.

Jiang was installed as leader just before the bloody 1989 crackdown of a student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and later presided over an era of soaring economic growth in the 1990s and early 2000s while still maintaining rigid party control.

The commission’s statement, released after an extended session on Monday, presided over by its head Chen Wenqing, a member of the party’s 24-member Politburo, said the meeting aimed to discuss results of the October 20 party congress.

At the event, Xi awarded himself a third five-year term as general secretary, potentially making him China’s leader for life, while bridging key bodies with loyalists and eliminating dissenting voices.

“At the meeting, it was emphasized that political and legal authorities must take effective measures in order to … resolutely protect national security and social stability,” the announcement states.

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

Yet less than a month after seemingly securing his political future and unrivaled dominance, Xi, who has signaled that he prefers regime stability above all else, is faced his biggest public challenge yet.

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

Most of the protesters focused their anger on the “zero COVID-19” policy that has put millions of people under quarantine and quarantine, limiting their access to food and medicine, while devastating the economy and severely restricting travel. Many scoffed at the government’s ever-changing opinion, as well as claims that “hostile foreign powers” were causing a wave of anger.

Still, bolder voices have called for greater freedom and democracy and for Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, and the party he leads to step down – speech considered subversive and punishable by long prison terms. Some held blank pieces of white paper to demonstrate the lack of free speech.

Protests over the weekend were sparked by anger over at least 10 people died in the fire on Nov. 24 in far western China, prompting angry questions online about whether the firefighters or victims trying to escape were being blocked by anti-virus controls.

Authorities eased some controls and announced a new push to vaccinate vulnerable groups after the demonstrations, but continued to stick to a “zero-Covid” strategy.

The party had already promised to reduce disruption last month, but a sharp rise in infections quickly prompted hard-pressed party cadres to tighten controls in an effort to prevent outbreaks. On Wednesday, the National Health Commission reported 37,612 cases detected in the previous 24 hours, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,233.

Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students protested over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and southern Guangdong province sent the students home in an apparent attempt to calm tensions. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism, including the Tiananmen protests.

Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid emboldening others by drawing attention to the scale of the protests. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about the protests have been deleted by the party’s vast internet censorship apparatus.

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

Beijing needs to make its approach “very targeted” to reduce economic disruption the head of the International Monetary Fund told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Economists and health experts, however, warn that Beijing cannot relax controls that keep most travelers out of China until tens of millions of elderly people are vaccinated. They say this means “zero COVID” may not end for another year.

On Wednesday, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said the restrictions, among other things, prevented US diplomats from meeting US prisoners held in China, as required by international treaty. Due to the lack of commercial airlines into the country, the embassy has to use monthly charter flights to move its staff in and out.

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

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

“They have the right to express their views. They have the right to be heard. It is a fundamental right all over the world. It should be. And that right should not be hindered and should not be hindered,” he said.

Burns also cited instances of Chinese police harassing and detaining foreign journalists covering protests.

“We support freedom of the press as well as freedom of speech,” he said.

In Tokyo, dozens of protesters took to the streets on Wednesday to support China’s demonstrations. Dozens of them, mostly Chinese, held signs in Japanese, Chinese and English reading “Xi Jinping Step Down” and “Crush the Communist Party”.

Asked about foreign expressions of support for the protesters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended his country’s measures against COVID-19 and said other nations should mind their own business.

“We hope they will listen to the voices and interests of their own people first instead of pointing fingers at others,” Zhao told a daily briefing.

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