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#15 - In Brief - Protests Rock the Mainland
抗议 - Kang4 Yi4 - Protest
Widespread, large-scale, anti-COVID policy, anti-party protests are testing the CCPs resolve and Xi Jinping’s place in the party as the paramount leader. These gatherings are likely the largest overt anti-CCP mainland protests since the 1989 country-wide protests whose focal point was Tiananmen (the present protests are not yet at 1989’s scale). Beijing’s response will be instructive as to the strength of Xi’s authority and the CCP’s ability to lock down society in future scenarios such as a Taiwan invasion.
Background: On Thursday (11/24) night, a deadly fire in Urumqi (the provincial capital of Xinjiang) killed at least 10 people and sparked widespread national outrage over covid restrictions. Vigils for the victims took place throughout the country on Saturday and many of these transitioned into local anti-lockdown protests, with some erupting into political protests calling for Xi Jinping and the CCP to stand down.
Protests are common in China, but this event is unique because of the following points:
- The protests are widespread, taking place in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Urumqi, and many other cities.
- This is a large-scale event. In some cities protestors number less than 100, but in other places such as Beijing and Shanghai, numbers exceed 10,000.
- Protests initially shared a common anti-COVID policy theme. It is rare that protests in China target national issues, as most civil unrest seems to be related to local governance.
- The protests are quickly becoming anti-CCP. A growing number of protestors are directly challenging Beijing, calling for the CCP and Xi Jinping to step down.
- Information is going international. The CCP is normally excellent at domestic information control, but it has not been able to stem news of these protests from going outside of the county. This means that their response to these protests will be subject to international scrutiny.
The protests are ongoing as this article is being published. There are currently no indicators that they will stop. The initial response from the CCP was to obfuscate and shift blame to foreign forces. Foreign journalists have been arrested near protest sites (a key indicator that the regime feels threatened) while censors are busy removing information about the protests on the domestic internet. The police are arresting specific outspoken protestors and are patrolling city streets in force. This expanded police presence is searching citizens for protest related materials.
If unrest continues, a major next step for the CCP will be the decisive deployment of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) in major activity zones such as Shanghai. The PAP is purpose built to stamp out civil unrest through the use of force. If citizens must be physically dispersed, there will likely be a follow-on campaign of retribution against protestors and supporters. Think social credit score adjustments and surveillance targeting key influencers.
Important questions going forward:
Will the protests continue into Monday and through the week? Is it important enough that citizens will miss work to attend protest activity?
What cities will the PAP be deployed in?
Which party and government officials will be forced to resign?
Does Xi triple down on his COVID policy after recently doubling down on it?
With Beijing’s attention likely turning almost fully inward, what key foreign policy issues are going to be neglected for roughly the next 6 months? Or more?
Any mention of PLA preparation indicates the protests may be getting difficult to control.
Ultimately, these events of momentary collapse in obedience to the authoritarians in Beijing are each potentially the seeds of fundamental change. Does this event force the CCP to focus more on domestic repression, funneling resources away from the military? Does it cause CCP members to lose some faith in Xi’s leadership? Is this a moment where Xi can maximize his public use of force to quash dissent and solidify the CCP’s rule into the next generation? Will this snowball into a mass movement like the 2019 Hong Kong protests and if so will the CCP be able to control events? We will all be paying close attention to how events unfold.