Can China Maintain Its Zero COVID Policy?
welcome to Foreign police‘s China Brief.
Highlights of the week: China pandemic restrictions are more and more disruptive, a tennis player makes the first #MeToo accusations against a senior government official, and the US Department of Defense issues a key report on the chinese military.
If you would like to receive China Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.
How long can China’s lockdowns last?
The entire Shanghai Disney Resort closed its doors last Sunday after just one weekend visitor tested positive for COVID-19, with 34,000 people unable to leave until tested and isolated. Teams in protective gear sprayed rides and administered tests under the lights of Shanghai Disneyland Castle – a microcosm of lockdowns occurring across China as the country struggles to deal with a small but persistent variant epidemic delta.
So far, there are only around 500 delta cases in China, and strict measures are generally still considered necessary to maintain the country’s largely successful policy of pursuing zero cases of COVID-19. Anticipating more checks following a possible peak in winter cases, the government has demand the public to ensure their homes are stocked with supplies. Corn pandemic weariness is also taking hold, which could lead to weakening compliance with the rules.
Tourist spots are particularly likely to see restrictions due to the high volume of visitors, but the government has also instituted a ring of control around Beijing, and thefts have been canceled. Even in a country with a very high vaccination rate, a severe outbreak of COVID-19 in the capital would be a political disaster. A major political meeting, the sixth plenum of the Chinese Communist Party, takes place next week. Shijiazhuang, a major rail gateway to Beijing, is under emergency state, with controlled entry and exit.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s protocols are overloaded, with quarantine often mandatory even for remote contacts of positive COVID-19 cases. For example, a visit to a restaurant by someone who subsequently tests positive may mean not only a quarantine for other diners and staff, but also for anyone who was there on the following days. False positives further complicate matters: although diagnostic tests are reliable, China administers them on a large scale which inevitably product a lot of false positives, because real cases are very rare.
China’s COVID-19 control systems are more localized than one might expect, creating friction. Although senior officials set priorities and standards, cities have instituted their own separate rules, use different versions of health apps that display their testing and vaccination status, and often have problems sharing individual data with each other. . A person traveling or even moving between cities may experience difficulty transferring their information which takes days or weeks to correct.
The restrictions slow down Chinese ports, but they also contribute to domestic supply chain problems. The movement of goods depends on the now restricted movement of truck drivers, who have been a public health concern due to their role in the spread epidemics in the past. It doesn’t help that they have little lobbying power: 90 percent trucks are owned by individuals and the pandemic has hit the industry hard. Low fuel prices last year provided some compensation, but diesel fuel is now rationed in the middle shortages.
These bureaucratic hiccups are nothing new, but the pandemic regime has made them more immediate and frustrating, like for someone banned from public spaces for not having the right health code. It is even more delicate for foreigners, because accounts of longtime residents suggest. Passports are supposed to replace ID cards and other local documents in such cases, but they never easily fit into Chinese bureaucracy.
In the long run, the pandemic restrictions contribute to the overall strengthening of the Chinese state. China was uniquely set up to handle the coronavirus – after its initial cover-ups let it spread in the first place. The surveillance mechanism put in place over decades for political control, from cameras to the requirement of ID to buy train tickets and SIM cards, easily accommodated control of the pandemic.
This control of the pandemic in turn emboldened the mechanism of political repression and standardized movement controls. Now justified in using this set of tools, officials will use it for purposes worse than eliminating COVID-19.
The #MeToo affair hits a former official. In a Weibo post that only stayed for a few minutes, 35-year-old tennis star Peng Shuai, accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, of sexual assault. The censors deleted the message. Peng said that she started sex with Zhang 10 years ago when he was the party leader of Tianjin, and then gave up on her in 2013 when he became vice-premier. minister, a post he held until 2018. Peng said he sexually assaulted her. three years ago. “I never consented that afternoon, but I cried the whole time,” she wrote.
from China #MeToo movement has grown in recent years, despite government efforts to suppress it and the failure of key legal cases. But Peng’s accusation is the first publicly brought against a senior official. The news spread quickly over the Chinese internet, even as many terms that might hint at the names involved are now blocked.
Although Zhang is unlikely to face legal consequences, the position can become fodder for his political enemies: even retired civil servants are often caught in power struggles. It is not known where Peng is currently located. Her post, which mentions arranging a meeting with Zhang on November 2, suggests that she is in Beijing, but there are rumors on Chinese diaspora social media that she is in Los Angeles. If she’s in China, she’s probably now being held.
Rumors that movie and sports stars form extramarital affairs with senior officials in exchange for financial support and closeness to power are common. The Central Academy of Dramatic Art and other Beijing art schools are particularly infamous as hunting grounds for the rich and powerful. While many of these relationships are consensual, some constitute sexual predation, which is not surprising in a patriarchal system with little accountability.
United States releases military report on China. The US Department of Defense issued a key report on the Chinese military on Wednesday, with particular emphasis on the ambitious expansion of China’s nuclear stockpile. United States says China is considering quadruple the size of its current arsenal by 2030, and satellite imagery shows new silos under construction. This makes the world more dangerous, especially since Beijing has little appetite for disarmament talks.
Yet without rejecting Chinese military accumulation– which threatens Taiwan and other neighbors – we must not forget that even external estimates of China’s military budget puts it at one-third of the US budget. Every part of the US military is already advancing Chinese growth as an excuse why it should get more money. This risks obscuring the real threat.
Taiwanese rumors. The Chinese government is trying to cover up rumors that a invasion of taiwan is imminent, triggered by recent public demands to stockpile food and increased foreign media attention to threats against Taiwan. But the most disturbing of rumors is the volume of posts that delight in the idea of ââseizing Taiwanese wealth or houses. Once seen as lost comrades, Taiwanese are increasingly portrayed as a separatist minority that must be crushed, just like Hong Kong people.
Winter is coming. What appears to be a particularly gloomy winter marked by early cold spells prompted local governments to activate heating systems relatively early. Most heaters in China are centralized and only turn on after an official date (usually around November 15) and turn off on March 15. This often leaves shuddering inhabitants in October and early November, turning to small electric heaters or coal stoves. This year, to limit emissions, the government has also confiscated private coal supply.
But there is also a national division as to who gets the heat. Alone northern provinces a line that divides the center of the country, running along the Huai River and the Qin Mountains, made central heating mandatory. Although a few high-end homes have it in the south, most of the others resort to blankets and hot water bottles. This means that some of China’s worst winter disasters have occurred in its normally warm regions, similar to the cold snap that devastated Texas in February.
Yahoo is leaving China. Yahoo became the second technology company to leave China in as many months, in the footsteps of LinkedIn. Yahoo was once a popular alternative to Google in China, but that has changed with the tightening of the Great Firewall. Of the society mail service was closed years ago, and it had been in trouble for transmit confidential information to the Chinese government in 2005 which resulted in the arrest of journalists.
There aren’t many Western tech companies left in China. The real test will be if Bloomberg, who made considerable concessions to the authorities to maintain its operational terminal activity, withdraws.
Manufacturing falls again. Chinese manufacturing output contracted by a second consecutive month as the sector continues to face energy shortages and supply chain challenges. The energy problems can be partially alleviated as the government forces more coal-fired electricity online, but electricity remains expensive, and gasoline costs are also on the rise. However, small businesses seem to be doing a bit better, according to data from Caixin.