China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has issued the country’s toughest warning yet against anybody who doubts the country’s zero-Covid policy, as severe, regular lockdowns fuel public anger and have a disastrous impact on the Chinese economy.
The ruling Communist Party’s supreme Politburo Standing Committee vowed on Thursday, chaired by Xi, to “unwaveringly adhere to the general policy of ‘dynamic zero-Covid,’ and resolutely fight against any words and acts that distort, doubt, or deny our country’s epidemic prevention policies.”
This is the first time Xi, who according to state media gave a “important statement” during the conference, has made public remarks regarding China’s campaign against Covid since public furor erupted over the brutal lockdown in Shanghai.
“Our prevention and control strategy is determined by the nature and mission of the party,” the seven-member committee said, according to government news agency Xinhua. “Our policies can stand the test of history, and our measures are scientific and effective.”
“We have won the struggle to protect Wuhan, and we will undoubtedly win the war to defend Shanghai,” the statement stated.
The Standing Committee also asked that cadres have a “deep, thorough, and comprehensive awareness” of the party’s central leadership’s policies.
“We must overcome the problems of inadequate awareness, inadequate preparation, and insufficient work, as well as contempt, indifference, and self-righteousness in our thinking,” it said.
According to analysts who have long studied Chinese politics, the stern warning indicates that there has been internal opposition to Xi’s zero-Covid policy within the party.
“This language should be read as a direct criticism of unnamed local CCP leaders who have questioned central policies or who have been insufficiently successful in implementing them,” wrote David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project.
“And it’s difficult not to hear condemnation of leaders in Shanghai in particular in this phrase about’self-righteousness,'” Bandurski added.
Many Shanghai residents have taken to social media in the last five weeks to ask for help and express their outrage at severe food shortages and a lack of access to medical care. Some protested from their windows, banging pots and pans and yelling in frustration, while others clashed with police and health workers on the streets, a rare sight in a country where dissent is routinely suppressed.
Economists and business executives are also concerned about the severe economic fallout, especially given Shanghai’s role as the country’s leading financial centre as well as a major manufacturing and shipping hub. China’s services sector, which accounts for more than half of the country’s GDP and more than 40% of employment, contracted at the second fastest rate on record in April, while the manufacturing sector also shrank.
As Omicron spreads throughout China, more local governments are enacting quick lockdowns in reaction to a small number of cases. In Beijing, where over 500 instances have been documented since April 20, many fear a Shanghai-style lockdown as authorities tighten their grip.
The new announcement from the country’s senior officials, however, has made it plain that the Chinese government is doubling down on its policy of relying on rapid lockdowns, mass testing, and quarantine to eliminate the highly transmissible Omicron form for the foreseeable future.
According to Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, the topic of how the government should deal with the country’s biggest epidemic since Wuhan has turned into a “path conflict” inside the party since April.
“Firstly, it is a debate over whether it should pick ‘dynamic zero-Covid’ or a more flexible strategy to fighting Covid; and secondly, it is a dispute over whether to prioritise Covid control or economic growth,” Wu explained.
According to Wu, Xi’s new remark shows that he has chosen the former in both “struggles.”
Xi has personally endorsed China’s zero-Covid approach, with state media frequently saying that he has “personally directed and made arrangements” for the country’s fight against the epidemic.
“In that sense, zero-Covid has become an absolute, unchallengeable policy that is directly linked to his political power – and hence there will be no flexibility in its execution,” Wu added.