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China protests mark rebellion unseen in decades, direct challenge to Xi

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After nearly three years of unrelenting COVID-19 measures, a growing number of people in China have had enough. A deadly fire in the Xinjiang region this past week fueled the outrage, where many believe a COVID-19 lockdown delayed emergency response. Ten people died in the apartment blaze, unable to escape.

Now protests are sparking up all over the country in widespread resistance to the Chinese Communist Party unprecedented since the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in 1989.

BBC journalist beaten, arrested

As authorities try to squash the uprising, in Shanghai, police are seen in the video above arresting and beating BBC journalist Ed Lawrence.

“It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties,” BBC said in a statement. “We have had no official explanation or apology from Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd. We do not consider this a credible explanation.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian later claimed that Lawrence, “did not identify himself as a journalist and didn’t voluntarily present his press credentials.”

Protesters risk harsh prison sentences

In the crowds, some protesters are publicly calling for President Xi Jinping to resign, a declaration that could land them in prison.

“For Chinese citizens anywhere to be in a public setting, to say, ‘Down with Xi Jinping and down with the CCP,’ that is highly unusual and so this is a test for [Xi],” said Rory Truex, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. “He will feel personally threatened and challenged by this.”

COVID restrictions loosening?

About to enter the fourth year of Xi’s zero-COVID strategy, some think authorities are starting to cave to the public pressure. According to the Associated Press, Beijing city government said it’ll no longer use gates to block access to apartment compounds containing COVID-19 infections, without mentioning the deadly fire in Urumqi. In Guangzhou, some residents will not be required to do mass testing, citing a need to conserve resources. And in the Xinjiang region, where the fire started, businesses considered to be in low risk areas for infection can reopen.

China’s government denies the unprecedented protests have anything to do with the changes.

“What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened,” Zhao said. “China has been following the dynamic zero-COVID policy and making adjustments based on the realities on the ground.”

Global ripple effects

The uncertainty in the world’s second largest economy sent global markets on a downturn Monday, shaking stocks and oil as China’s COVID-19 cases surge and analysts wonder what Xi’s next move will be.

“I think we haven’t really seen the repressive apparatus fully engaged at this point, but unfortunately, I think that is what we’re going to observe in the days and weeks to come,” Truex said.

SIMONE DEL ROSARIO: AFTER NEARLY THREE YEARS OF UNRELENTING COVID MEASURES, A GROWING NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN CHINA HAVE HAD ENOUGH.

A DEADLY FIRE IN XINJIANG THIS PAST WEEK FUELED THE OUTRAGE, WHERE MANY BELIEVE A COVID LOCKDOWN DELAYED EMERGENCY RESPONSE, AND 10 PEOPLE DIED, UNABLE TO ESCAPE.

NOW PROTESTS ARE SPARKING UP ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, IN WIDESPREAD RESISTANCE TO THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY UNPRECEDENTED SINCE TIANANMEN SQUARE IN 1989.

AS AUTHORITIES TRY TO SQUASH THE UPRISING, IN SHANGHAI, THEY ARE SEEN HERE ARRESTING AND BEATING WORKING BBC JOURNALIST ED LAWRENCE. CHINA’S GOVERNMENT CLAIMS LAWRENCE DID NOT PRESENT HIS PRESS CREDENTIALS.

BBC SAYS “IT IS VERY WORRYING THAT ONE OF OUR JOURNALISTS WAS ATTACKED IN THIS WAY WHILST CARRYING OUT HIS DUTIES.”

IN THE CROWDS, SOME PROTESTERS ARE EVEN PUBLICLY CALLING FOR PRESIDENT XI JINPING TO RESIGN – A DECLARATION THAT COULD LAND THEM IN PRISON.

RORY TRUEX: For Chinese citizens anywhere to be in a public setting to say down with Xi Jinping and down with the CCP that is highly unusual  and so this is a test for him he will feel personally threatened and challenged by this.

SIMONE DEL ROSARIO: ABOUT TO ENTER YEAR FOUR OF XI’S ZERO-COVID STRATEGY, SOME THINK AUTHORITIES ARE STARTING TO CAVE TO THE PUBLIC PRESSURE.

ACCORDING TO AP, IN BEIJING, CITY GOVERNMENT SAYS IT’LL NO LONGER USE GATES TO BLOCK ACCESS TO APARTMENT COMPOUNDS WITH INFECTIONS.

IN GUANGZHOU, SOME RESIDENTS WILL NOT BE REQUIRED TO DO MASS TESTING, CITING A NEED TO CONSERVE RESOURCES.

AND IN THE XINJIANG REGION, WHERE THE FIRE STARTED, BUSINESSES CONSIDERED TO BE IN LOW RISK AREAS CAN REOPEN.

CHINA’S GOVERNMENT DENIES THE UNPRECEDENTED PROTESTS HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE CHANGES.

Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson: What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened. China has been following the dynamic zero-COVID policy and making adjustments based on the realities on the ground.

SIMONE DEL ROSARIO: THE UNCERTAINTY IN THE WORLD’S NUMBER TWO ECONOMY SENT GLOBAL MARKETS ON A DOWNTURN MONDAY, SHAKING STOCKS AND OIL AS CHINA’S COVID CASES SURGE, AND ANALYSTS WONDER WHAT XI’S NEXT MOVE WILL BE.

Media Landscape

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92 Other sources covering this story

Bias Distribution

L 25%
C 48%
R 27%

48% of the sources are Center

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After nearly three years of unrelenting COVID-19 measures, a growing number of people in China have had enough. A deadly fire in the Xinjiang region this past week fueled the outrage, where many believe a COVID-19 lockdown delayed emergency response. Ten people died in the apartment blaze, unable to escape.

Now protests are sparking up all over the country in widespread resistance to the Chinese Communist Party unprecedented since the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in 1989.

BBC journalist beaten, arrested

As authorities try to squash the uprising, in Shanghai, police are seen in the video above arresting and beating BBC journalist Ed Lawrence.

“It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties,” BBC said in a statement. “We have had no official explanation or apology from Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd. We do not consider this a credible explanation.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian later claimed that Lawrence, “did not identify himself as a journalist and didn’t voluntarily present his press credentials.”

Protesters risk harsh prison sentences

In the crowds, some protesters are publicly calling for President Xi Jinping to resign, a declaration that could land them in prison.

“For Chinese citizens anywhere to be in a public setting, to say, ‘Down with Xi Jinping and down with the CCP,’ that is highly unusual and so this is a test for [Xi],” said Rory Truex, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. “He will feel personally threatened and challenged by this.”

COVID restrictions loosening?

About to enter the fourth year of Xi’s zero-COVID strategy, some think authorities are starting to cave to the public pressure. According to the Associated Press, Beijing city government said it’ll no longer use gates to block access to apartment compounds containing COVID-19 infections, without mentioning the deadly fire in Urumqi. In Guangzhou, some residents will not be required to do mass testing, citing a need to conserve resources. And in the Xinjiang region, where the fire started, businesses considered to be in low risk areas for infection can reopen.

China’s government denies the unprecedented protests have anything to do with the changes.

“What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened,” Zhao said. “China has been following the dynamic zero-COVID policy and making adjustments based on the realities on the ground.”

Global ripple effects

The uncertainty in the world’s second largest economy sent global markets on a downturn Monday, shaking stocks and oil as China’s COVID-19 cases surge and analysts wonder what Xi’s next move will be.

“I think we haven’t really seen the repressive apparatus fully engaged at this point, but unfortunately, I think that is what we’re going to observe in the days and weeks to come,” Truex said.

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