BEIJING: On Tuesday, a large number of Chinese police officers were present in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent additional demonstrations against COVID curbs, which have hampered the economy, disrupted the lives of millions of people, and briefly sparked rare calls for President Xi Jinping to resign.
After reports that a busload of demonstrators were taken away by police during Sunday night protests in Shanghai, social media videos indicate that at least one person was arrested late on Monday in the city of Hangzhou.
Three years into the pandemic, simmering dissatisfaction with COVID prevention policies erupted over the weekend into larger protests in cities thousands of miles apart.
The largest wave of civil disobedience in the mainland of China since Xi took power a decade ago occurs as the daily number of COVID cases reaches record highs and a new round of lockdowns threatens large portions of several cities.
The majority of China’s 1.4 billion people have made significant sacrifices to prevent the spread of COVID, adhering to a zero-COVID policy that aims to eradicate all outbreaks and has kept China isolated from the rest of the world.
One of China’s steepest growth slowdowns in decades has been exacerbated by the lockdowns, which have disrupted global supply chains and roiled financial markets.
Reuters was unable to independently verify social media videos that showed hundreds of police occupying a large public square on Monday night in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern Zhejiang province, preventing people from congregating.
In one video, police were seen making an arrest while others attempted to release the person being detained amid a small group of people holding smartphones.
The police in Hangzhou did not immediately respond to a comment request.
On Tuesday morning, police could still be seen patrolling parts of Shanghai and Beijing’s cities where groups on the Telegram social media app had suggested that people should meet again. On Monday evening and throughout the night, their presence ensured that no more gatherings took place.
According to residents and social media users, police have been asking people passing through those areas for their phones to see if they have virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Telegram app, which weekend protesters have used. The Telegram app is blocked from the internet in China, and VPNs are against the law for the majority of people there.
‘A thousand hardships’
Protests in other cities appear to have been sparked by a fire that broke out last week in the western city of Urumqi and killed ten people, according to the authorities.
COVID lockdown measures, according to some internet users, hindered rescue efforts. That has been refuted by officials.
Even though protesters mostly focused on COVID curbs, they also occasionally took shots at the Communist Party that is in charge and at Xi, who has concentrated power in his own hands for a decade and just recently won another term as leader.
A large crowd chanted on Sunday in Chengdu, a city in the southwest. We don’t want rulers who rule forever. Emperors aren’t what we want. On Sunday, anti-Xi slogans were also heard for a brief time in Shanghai.
In the “war” against COVID, Xi had claimed personal responsibility for leading it. According to Chinese officials, the policy has prevented millions of deaths elsewhere and kept the death toll in the world’s most populous nation at thousands.
The country’s hospitals could be overwhelmed if the policies were relaxed, according to many analysts. They assert that vaccination of the elderly must be strongly promoted before China could even consider reopening.
People’s Daily, the Party’s official newspaper, urged citizens on Tuesday to “unswervingly implement” zero-COVID policies, which put people’s “lives first,” in an editorial that did not mention the protests. The editorial stated that victory will come through “perseverance through thousands of hardships.”
It stated, “You have to grit your teeth more as it gets harder.”