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Shanghai boosts security following unusual COVID protests in China

Protests in China

Authorities in Shanghai erected barriers on Monday around a city center area where hundreds of people demonstrated against harsh COVID-19 restrictions over the weekend. This was just one of many anti-lockdown protests that erupted across the nation.

Since leader Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago, protesters have engaged in unprecedented acts of civil disobedience on dozens of university campuses as well as in the streets of Shanghai and Beijing. They also oversaw the suppression of dissent and the installation of a sophisticated high-tech social surveillance system.

On Monday, neither Beijing nor Shanghai showed any indication of further protests. An inquiry for comments received no immediate response from the Public Security Bureau.

China’s efforts to eliminate the virus, which is infecting a record number of people three years after it first appeared in the central city of Wuhan, have been hampered by the reaction against COVID regulations.

The zero-COVID policy has helped to keep the official death toll in China below a million, yet it has cost the second-largest economy in the world’s millions of people who have been forced to spend extended periods of time at home.

Giving it up would imply reversing a policy that Xi had supported. In a nation with hundreds of millions of old people and low levels of COVID immunity, it would also run the danger of overloading the healthcare system and causing widespread disease and fatalities, according to specialists.

The demonstrations shook up the world’s markets on Monday, causing the dollar to rise and the price of oil to plummet while Chinese equities and the yuan to plunge.

The demonstrations were not covered by the official Chinese media, which instead urged people to follow COVID regulations in editorials. According to many analysts, China won’t likely reopen before March or April and needs a successful vaccination campaign first.

Late on Sunday, demonstrators and police battled in Shanghai’s business center, where 25 million residents were confined to their homes in April and May. Security personnel removed a busload of individuals as a result.

According to the BBC, police arrested and mistreated one of its reporters covering the events before releasing him several hours later. On Sunday night, a Reuters journalist was also taken into custody for roughly 90 minutes before being freed.

Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said that the BBC reporter did not identify himself as a journalist. The Shanghai administration made no comments.

On Monday, blue metal barriers were placed in the streets of Shanghai where protesters gathered to prevent crowding. While patrolling in pairs, police officers in high-visibility vests drove by on patrol cars and motorcycles.

According to a staff member at one of the stores or cafes, the area’s businesses were asked to close.

Since Xi recently won a third term as president of authoritarian China, where the COVID policy has continued to be a significant source of uncertainty for investors, developments are now also being closely watched for any indication of political instability.

Protests in Urumqi

Ten people were murdered in an apartment fire last week in the western city of Urumqi, which served as the demonstrations’ impetus. City officials refuted the claims that COVID limits throughout the city, some of which had been under lockdown for 100 days, had hampered rescue and egress.

On Friday, crowds gathered in the streets of Urumqi. Students gathered on campuses across China over the weekend as protesters overturned COVID testing facilities in cities like Wuhan and Lanzhou.

Social media posters and censors engaged in a game of cat and mouse as a result of discussions about the protests and the sharing of images and video.

Protests in Beijing

On a city ring road in Beijing, big groups of calm but passionate individuals gathered after midnight on Sunday.

Some others were holding blank pieces of paper, which have come to represent dissent. Some motorists honked their horns and waved their hands in approval.

In a nation where Xi wields a level of power unseen since Mao Zedong’s time, some protesters chanted anti-Xi slogans for a brief period of time on Sunday in Shanghai, which is almost unheard of.

Some people voiced opposition to protesters taking to the streets as resentment over the COVID rules simmered.

Featured image: Tsinghua University students call for Democracy, Freedom of Speech and Rule of Law

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