What are the protests in China about?

In China, a massive police contingent prevented protests against the zero-Covid policy from continuing on Monday. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the policy would remain in place but there would be some minor concessions: in Beijing, the students at some universities will be allowed to leave the campus, for example. Europe's press continues to debate the significance of the weekend's protests.

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Corriere della Sera (IT) /

No way out of lockdown

China's Covid strategy has failed, says Corriere della Sera:

“Beijing has wasted too much time and resources without developing an exit strategy from the health restrictions. Infections are currently limited to about 40,000 per day. But if China lifts the restrictions now, because of its less effective and less widespread vaccines compared to the West and its less well-prepared hospitals, it would register 363 million infections and 620,000 deaths in the next six months. After three years of lockdown, even Xi could not explain that extent of failure to the Chinese and would have to admit that the one-party system is less effective than Western democracies.”

El Mundo (ES) /

People exhausted, economy nosediving

El Mundo is reminded of 1989:

“Although the movement is not yet a revolution, it is reminiscent of the student revolt that ended with a massacre on Tiananmen Square in 1989. For the first time, calls for freedom and democracy can be heard again, and from many young people. ... The protests also reflect the extent to which the health policy - through which the communist government has been able to strengthen its social control, but in which it is now trapped - has left the Chinese people exhausted. The Chinese are having to endure not only a lack of mobility but also an economic decline that is already affecting families, with youth unemployment at record levels and a collapsing real estate market.”

France Inter (FR) /

The bird has had enough of its cage

China needs real democratic reforms now, writes columnist Pierre Haski in France Inter:

“The harmonious façade presented by the Chinese Communist Party has been shattered by the zero-Covid policy and it now needs to formulate a new social contract that goes beyond empty slogans like the 'Chinese dream' or 'shared prosperity'. With his repeated statements about a declining West and rising China, Xi thought he had banished the democratic temptation that has dogged China for over a century. But he has not been able to kill what Nathan Law, the exiled leader of the Hong Kong revolt, beautifully summed up: 'the desire to leave the cage and fly'. Today, it will be difficult to put the bird back in its cage.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Protests not aimed at the central government

President Xi's grip on power is not under threat, writes China correspondent Fabian Kretschmer in the taz:

“Anyone who claims otherwise underestimates the perfidious efficiency of Chinese censorship and the intimidating effect of the domestic security apparatus. There have been no critical media or NGOs in the country for years - the institutions that are necessary for local demonstration movements to be able to work together. Moreover, the frustration of many Chinese is directed primarily at the Covid measures, not the central government in Beijing. They see the excessive lockdowns as an abuse of power by local neighbourhood committees rather than a necessary excrescence of a totalitarian system.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Frustration over Covid as a binding force

Dagens Nyheter sees a new solidarity growing in China:

“Protests are usually easily suppressed because China doesn't have the many civil society organisations that promote and unite opposition forces in less totalitarian societies. The Covid policy is becoming a kind of substitute for this. It mobilises the rich, the poor, the young, the old, the students and the workers in the iPhone factories. It is causing the urban middle class in Shanghai to sympathise with the oppressed in Xinjiang, 4,000 kilometres away. And it partly explains why China is now experiencing its most decisive moment since the spring of 1989.”

Público (PT) /

Protesters want real change

Público sees in the current demonstrations the spark of nascent democracy movements - both in China and Iran:

“Desperation caused by the oppressive Covid measures is giving Chinese protesters the impetus to voice their discontent on the streets. But that their unease has deeper roots becomes clear when they express it with slogans calling for the removal of President Xi Jinping and against censorship and for democracy. ... This is not just about Covid, just as in Iran the unrest is not just about headscarves and the situation of women. Young people in both countries know very well that the system must be overthrown to remove the evil at its core and have an acceptable future.”

The Times (GB) /

Xi needs to admit mistakes

President Xi will have to change his Covid strategy, says The Times:

“Other than to reduce the number of days that those testing positive are required to remain in quarantine from ten to eight, Mr Xi shows little willingness to drop the zero-Covid policy. Indeed, the Chinese leader has invested too much of his own political authority in the strategy to back down now. To do so would be to admit a political mistake. But to continue to pursue a policy that is manifestly failing to contain the spread of Covid and which has clearly lost public support is bound to fuel protests and political unrest. How Mr Xi responds to this unprecedented challenge to his authority will reverberate far beyond the borders of China.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Immunity was criminally neglected

The misguided Covid policy is now taking its toll, says Jyllands-Posten:

“There is something ironic about the fact that the country that is the point of origin of the pandemic is also the place where people are still struggling with Covid. This is entirely self-inflicted. The government insisted on using only its own vaccine, even though it is clearly less effective than the vaccines used by the rest of the world. And its brutal lockdown policy, where a single case consistently paralyses cities of millions of people for weeks and even months, has prevented any kind of herd immunity. It is also ironic that the handling of the virus, which is known to have originated in China, is now backfiring on the government like a boomerang.”