Roots of China’s Zero-COVID Policy – Analysis – Eurasia Review

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Xi Jinping’s Zero COVID policy has ideological, political and nationalist roots. There are also historical antecedents to exceptionally strong and concerted action by the state to achieve the ruler’s goal.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s stance at the recently concluded 20th Communist Party conference belied hopes that his strict zero-COVID policy would culminate in him securing an unprecedented third term as secretary. party general.

Ahead of the Congress held in mid-October, Western commentators and Chinese liberals hoped that if the party fully endorsed Xi’s policies and style, it would be free to revise its rigid COVID-19 policy that had had a heavy economic toll in addition to considerably restricting the freedoms of the people.

But that didn’t happen because Xi walked out of the Party Congress convinced that his policies were correct and that no corrections were needed. He said the only way to end the scourge of COVID is to prevent it from spreading among millions of Chinese people by imposing severe large-scale lockdowns, crippling movement restrictions and tight control of people-to-people interactions.

Xi told the Party Congress on October 16: “In responding to the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, we put people and their lives above everything else, we have worked to prevent both imported cases and resurgences. national governments, and tenaciously pursued a Zero-COVID dynamic. Politics. By launching an all-out people’s war to stop the spread of the virus, we have safeguarded people’s health and safety to the greatest extent possible and made extremely encouraging achievements in both epidemic response and development. Economic and Social.

Xi’s justification for the draconian restrictions was that they had saved millions of lives. But the flip side included many painful drags on people and an economic downturn that impacted the world through supply chain disruptions.

“At least 65 million Chinese are currently in some form of lockdown. In cities not battling epidemics, the cancellation of COVID still dictates the rhythms of daily life. Residents line up for mandatory, regular testing and obsessively monitor their health codes, digital markers that dictate whether they can roam freely,” said the New York Times reported.

write in The diplomat Sarah Hsu said China’s GDP shrank 2.6% in the second quarter of 2022, the slowest since the pandemic began in 2020. She quoted a Hong Kong-based economist who estimated the lockdowns were costing to China 3.1% of GDP per month, assuming the cities contributing the most to GDP were in quarantine.

Hao Hong, the chief economist and partner at Grow Investment Management in Hong Kong, was quoted in the media as saying that “the nearly three dozen Chinese cities under some form of lockdown account for a third of the China’s total economic output”. Sarah Hsu quoted another survey to say that 60% of foreign companies were downsizing or trying to expand outside of China. According New York Timesyouth unemployment had reached a record 20% in August 2022.

But economic pressure, falling incomes and rising employment have not deterred Xi Jinping from pursuing his Zero-COVID policy. He relegated economic development to the back burner by giving top priority to containing COVID-19, firmly believing it will be in China’s long-term interests.

This may well be the case, but various other reasons are also cited for Xi’s stubbornness in this regard. The Voice of America speculated that China would not abandon the “non-medical route” of COVID containment until it locally developed an effective vaccine to match the effectiveness of Western Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines.

It is a matter of Chinese national pride to only use Chinese brands. And China seems ready to wait for an effective Chinese vaccine to be found. This indicates the overwhelming power of Chinese nationalism and the Chinese sense of independence.

The second reason given for Xi’s stubbornness is that China does not believe in containing the virus by allowing the population to develop herd immunity. Many in China fear that in a populous country like China, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are infected or must be sacrificed to develop herd immunity.

The other problem is that vaccination is not universal in China. Curiously, even under authoritarian rule, 38% of the population over 60 were not fully vaccinated, according to Sarah Hsu. Other observers said many Chinese, especially the elderly, do not believe in getting vaccinated for fear of adverse consequences. The government, along with much of the masses, believed that limiting social interaction and imposing lockdowns would be a safer path to take than vaccinating the reluctant.

VOA confirms this by quoting Jean-Pierre Cabestan of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China in Hong Kong, who said that despite some opposition within the party, there was “strong support overall” for the Zero policy. COVID as well as the brakes, even among doctors and experts in China.

Xi is also heartened that the harsh lockdowns he imposed during the first wave of COVID two years ago had controlled the spread of the virus even as other countries, including the United States and other countries, Other Western countries were experiencing high death tolls. . China not only prevented a high death rate, but recovered economically to be closer to the United States. The Communist Party was proud of this, and the effectiveness of the harsh measures was presented as a justification for the superiority of the Chinese system of governance.

Propaganda also played a role in the acceptance of hardline politics, according to reports. It portrays COVID-19 as a killer that has devastated Western countries, heightening the stigma of the virus among ordinary Chinese people. The stigma has also helped silence those seeking a softer, more humane approach to the COVID threat.

Historically, China has taken extreme measures to achieve its social, political and economic goals and also to address national issues. The Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961, with Chairman Mao Zedong at the helm, was an ambitious plan of drastic economic development, urbanization and industrialization. But it involved the forced collectivization of agriculture and other measures that ruined the economy. The devastation included 45 million starvation deaths, according to Western estimates.

The Cultural Revolution of 1966 was the next event to be marked by excesses. Mao blamed certain party bigwigs and many others for the failure of the Great Leap Forward. He launched the “cultural revolution” to ruthlessly eliminate those who would have stood in the way of the revolution. He unleashed the rogue Red Guards on the suspects. Chinese social institutions have been turned upside down by unruly mobs. Mao also launched a purge because he felt there was a conspiracy at the highest level to overthrow him.

A Western report cited a 2011 article by Song Yongyi, a Cultural Revolution scholar, to put the Cultural Revolution death toll at between 500,000 and eight million. Many leading figures of the revolution like Deng Xioping and Liu Shaoqi were sidelined and humiliated.

Xi Jinping’s Zero COVID policy is a tough policy and is carried out in China’s authoritarian tradition. But unlike previous national movements, it is totally non-violent. The goal is to save lives. “By launching an all-out people’s war to stop the spread of the virus, we have safeguarded people’s health and safety to the greatest extent possible,” Xi told the party congress.

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