How Xi Jinping lost the war against COVID and fell into his own trap

Xi Jinping (Reuters)
Xi Jinping (Reuters)

The unusual protests that extend in several cities of Chinabefore the fed up of the people with the restrictions of the politics of COVID zeroare shedding light on how the Xi Jinping regime failed to amend course in time and is falling into a trap of its own making as a result of the rigidity of the autocratic system.

Despite the repression and censorship, the demonstrations are repeated in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Hangzhou or in Urumqi, where 10 people died in a fire in a building confined by the authorities. The protests also reflect the frustration of many with the Chinese political system.

“China is reeling even as other nations are more or less returning to normal life,” noted the prominent analyst. Paul Krugmann in a column for the New York Times. “Chinese leaders appear to have believed that the lockdowns could end the coronavirus permanently, and they have acted as if they continued to believe this even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Under “COVID zero”, the authorities continue to impose draconian confinements and closures more typical of 2020 than of an end of 2022 with vaccines and greater knowledge about the virus and treatments.

Protest in Beijing with symbolic blank papers (Reuters)
Protest in Beijing with symbolic blank papers (Reuters)

“Governments have to be able to change policy in the face of changed circumstances and new evidence. Y what we are seeing in China is the problem of autocratic governments that cannot admit mistakes and do not accept evidence they do not like”, Krugman added about the rigidity of public health measures.

The text, titled “How China Lost the COVID War”, recalls that many elderly Chinese are not fully vaccinated and that China has not used foreign-made vaccines that would be more effective than domestic formulas. Therefore, he maintained that “China has completely failed to develop a Plan B.”.

The consequences can be unimaginable. Without speculating on the social unrest that is increasing, only on the economic level is the impact strong, since the closures occur in cities that represent almost 60% of the country’s GDP. The most symbolic shutdown was at Foxconn where iPhones are produced, just weeks before the Christmas season.

A group of health workers in protective equipment wait in line to undergo a COVID-19 test in Beijing (Reuters)
A group of health workers in protective equipment wait in line to undergo a COVID-19 test in Beijing (Reuters)

Krugman, who recalled the versions that China would emerge stronger from the pandemic and even praised the regime’s ability to quickly organize citizens (in the absence of dissent and political opposition that exist in democracies), points out that Xi Jinping is now in a trap organized by himself. “Autocracy is not, in fact, superior to democracy. Autocrats can act quickly and decisively, but they can also make huge mistakes because no one can tell them when they’re wrong.”, he pointed out.

“The zero COVID policy is obviously untenable, but ending it would mean tacitly admitting error, something autocrats never find easy. Also, relaxing the rules would mean a huge increase in cases and deaths”, he explained. There is no apparent easy way out.

The author considered the dogmanism of the Chinese Communist Party to be similar to that of right-wing American Republicans, also involved in denialism.

As for the lessons to be drawn from the Chinese scene, Krugman said special care should be taken with would-be autocrats “who insist, regardless of the evidence, that they are always right.”

Keep reading:

How blank sheets of paper became a symbol of protest in China
The Chinese regime shielded Beijing and Shanghai after the unprecedented protests against the “zero COVID” policy

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