China: Protests 'warning shot' for regime says Hawksley
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Protesters in China have clashed with police forces and called for the resignation of President Xi Jinping over the Communist Party’s Coronavirus approach. Regions of China have been under strict lockdown for months after infection rates began to climb despite a planned expansion of the nation’s vaccine programme. The unrest has become an unprecedented “warning shot” for the Chinese Government as comparisons have been drawn to the 1989 Tainanmen square protests, which were violently suppressed by the military.
BBC foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley told Times Radio: “It’s a massive warning shot across the Chinese Communist Party’s bow.
“This sort of nationwide unrest – protests, taking on the police, calling for the resignation [of] Xi Jinping, calling for freedom and democracy – hasn’t happened since the 1989 protests, which were violently put down then.”
In 1989, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square became the focus of large-scale pro-democracy protests which challenged the Chinese Communist leadership.
China’s Government responded by declaring martial law and moving military forces towards Tiananmen Square. Protesters were brutally confronted by the armed forces and the Communist Party reported 200 civilians died.
However, later investigations have indicated the casualty rate was far higher with former British Ambassador to China Sir Alan Donald having suggested 10,000 people were killed.
Discussing the ongoing unrest in China, Mr Hawksley said: “I think what has happened here is that the people have come out on the streets and it’s a general sentiment that the Covid policy hasn’t worked.
“Therefore, the pact that the Chinese Communist Party has with its people, that is to keep quiet, obey us and then your standards of living will rise and you’ll get most of the freedoms that anybody else has got – but you won’t be able to talk about politics and democracy.
“That pact is fraying. There are strains on it.”
Demonstrations against the Chinese Government’s authority are exceedingly rare, yet the protests connected to the zero-Covid policy have spread to a global level.
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Considering the Chinese Government’s response to the protests, Mr Hawksley said: “I think what will happen now is that the ringleaders, or the people that led those protests, are in for a very uncomfortable few years.”
He added: “We don’t quite know what is going to happen to them.
“Of course, with the technology that China has, [it] is leading the world on surveillance technology, their identities are known immediately.
“The facial recognition, the surveillance that’s around, those sort of elements, their phones and all that – these people can be traced already. Their families are being called, they are being called and told to step back and go inside.”
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Frustrations surrounding Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy gathered pace following a fire in a high-rise building in Xinjiang, a region that has been under lockdown measures for over 100 days.
The blaze last week killed ten people and prompted questions over whether the Covid protocol had impeded rescue efforts.
In light of the unrest, China’s Government appears to have signalled a shift in the strict zero-Covid approach.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that Chinese authorities planned to reduce mass testing regulations and ease isolations guidelines in certain areas.
The news comes as, following violent protests on Tuesday, some local authorities announced they were lifting lockdowns and allowing businesses to reopen.
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