A just and rich irony of the COVID-19 pandemic would be that the virus — which the Chinese government allowed to spread through its censorship and cover-up tactics — ultimately causes the fall of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen soon, even though protesters took to the streets this past weekend in cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, some of them calling for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to step down.

China’s strict “zero-COVID” policy and long-standing lockdowns led to the unusual uprisings, following a fatal fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, Xinjiang. According to accounts, victims there were under long-term lockdown and some may have had trouble escaping. In another irony, the display of the flag of the People’s Republic of China and the lyrics of the national anthem, which call upon the people to “rise up,” have become a symbol of protest against the CCP.

Protests are risky in China, with its intense police presence, closed-circuit TV, omnipresent recognition software, and tracking techniques that could identify some of those defying the government. Additionally, as the protests grow, the greater the need will be for Xi to crack down to sustain the party’s legitimacy.

Three questions come to mind as we watch these protests unfold:

  • First, is this a pushback against the draconian COVID policies that Xi put in place, or is it a nascent pro-democracy movement given the anti-Xi, anti-CCP element?
  • Second, as with the motivation behind the protests, we wonder how strong this movement might be and whether it can sustain itself over time, especially when a government crackdown inevitably occurs?
  • Third, will the West, and the Biden administration in particular, do anything to help the Chinese people if indeed they seek freedom from communism?

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China’s uprisings present an opportunity to the West

This article first appeared in The Hill on 11/28/2022.