Covid out of control and economy in half: Xi Jinping’s big challenges

Even though China is currently undergoing an effective outbreak of Covid-19, the highest government authorities are silent. President Xi Jinping has publicly only hinted at the health of the country. On several occasions, he claimed that the Chinese authorities always preferred it “human safety and health”. On January 18, he said he was worried about the situation in rural areas, according to “New China” news agency. “prevention and control measures […] difficult to implement and therefore where the work is difficult”.

The Chinese president previously appeared on television on December 31 to celebrate the start of the new year. In front of the red flag, sitting next to the painting of the Great Wall, he talked about the successes of his country in 2022 – the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Beijing on February XX.e The Communist Party congress in October or the handover of the Comac C919, China’s first commercial aircraft, which is due to make its first commercial flight in 2023, in December.

The epidemic itself was mentioned in only a few words. “The fight against Covid-19 has entered a new phase and it still requires constant work. If each of us perseveres in our efforts, the light of hope is before ushe declared. Let’s redouble our efforts, because perseverance and solidarity will lead us to victory.” On December 26, he also called on the political and health authorities to take all necessary measures in another television broadcast. “Effectively protecting the Chinese people”. How will the government get involved in this mobilization? Xi Jinping’s words do not indicate this.

The end of checks, the beginning of care

At the end of 2020, after the first year of fighting the virus, Chinese leaders and Xi Jinping presented the results of their countries. “unusual” Compared to the challenges faced by the West. Close and constant surveillance of the population seems to have prevented the epidemic for about three years. When attention appeared, the entire neighborhood was strictly cordoned off, and infected people were sent to more or less medically well-equipped care centers. In April 2022, in Shanghai, where the number of infections was increasing, most of the city was locked down for more than a month.

But on December 7, it was suddenly announced that all these precautions will be canceled from January 8. A complete surprise to many health inspectors, dressed in all-white overalls, ensuring their countrymen are not infected with Covid by nasal passages. The reasons for stopping the health tests in this way were not disclosed. Did the National Health Commission, China’s highest medical authority, decide that the surveillance system that was launched would not resist the appearance of the Omicron variant?

The Chinese are poorly vaccinated, and the elderly less often than others. First of all, Chinese vaccines clearly reduce the effectiveness. Therefore, the American Pfizer laboratory offered to sell one of its vaccines to China at the end of December. But after several days of negotiations, the Asian government refused, claiming that the price was too high.

37 to about 60,000 dead

The Omicron variant alone cannot explain Beijing’s decision to allow the outbreak to spread. The goal may be to bring the Chinese population into a form of herd immunity. The Chinese New Year celebrations on January 22 and the traditional migration of several hundred million people to their home provinces will accelerate this process. It should be noted that at the end of December, the number of Chinese people was close to 250 million.

The fact that Xi Jinping is silent
The end of the zero Covid policy begs the question: he is the author
This change in health orientation?

Faced with pressure from the World Health Organization (WHO) for details on the evolution of the epidemic, Beijing also changed its official count: on January 8, China officially reported only 37 deaths. In the previous four weeks; suddenly, on January 14, that number jumped to 59,938 deaths recorded in hospitals between December 8, 2022, and January 12, 2023, with 96% of victims at least 65 years old. And again, Covid deaths outside hospitals are not taken into account.

Therefore, the decision to end China-style very strict anti-Covid measures has serious consequences. Hospitals are overwhelmed by an influx of sick people, drugs are in short supply, and crematoriums in several cities are overcrowded. No matter what. In late December, the Chinese government hinted at this“By continuously improving the level of scientific prevention and control, combining economic development and health policy, China has achieved the best results in the world”.

Xi Jinping has not spoken out to justify this withdrawal, even though he has fully taken charge and justified the surveillance and anti-Covid vaccination campaigns for three years. However, his silence on this highly relevant issue, which concerns many Chinese, raises the question: is he the author of this change in health orientation?

The violence of Chinese politics

In October last year, the leader amended the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitution to remain in the post of general secretary. No further disputes or disagreements were reported. International cameras were certainly able to capture how his predecessor, Hu Jintao, was removed from the official platform, no doubt critical of Xi Jinping’s march to absolute power. However, this manifestation of omnipotence is unlikely to receive the unconditional approval of all members of the Chinese political hierarchy.

Since 1949 and the CCP’s rise to power, China has never seen a period when a leader was not challenged. In 1960, Mao Zedong was forced into semi-retirement as he initiated the abnormal economic policy of the Great Leap Forward. He retaliated six years later by instigating a cultural revolution that allowed him to oust certain leaders but led to other conflicts.

Deng Xiaoping, on the other hand, was constantly moving between different oppositions and changing CCP leaders from time to time before deep divisions were revealed during the Tiananmen Square student occupation. Jiang Zemin, for his part, went so far as to trust Jacques Chirac to rule without a free hand. And Hu Jintao had to constantly make sure to limit the various traps that Jiang Zemin tried to lead him into.

It would be surprising if the remarkable stability of Xi Jinping’s Chinese domestic politics manages to end these practices, which are completely opaque and therefore completely secretive. But there is another area of ​​great concern to China’s leaders these days: the country’s economic situation.

Unemployed youth and a slowing economy

On January 17, the growth figure for 2022 was published: 3%, with GDP growing just 1.8% in the fourth quarter alone. Recession: these results are a far cry from growth of about 6% five years ago, and a long way from the low of 10% in 2000-2010. Moreover, China’s exports fell 9.9% in December (the biggest drop since 2020) and 8.7% in November.

China’s debt bloat and declining investment have been compounded by a sharp decline in household consumption, adding to the resurgence of arrests that have slowed activity in many cities. In turn, the unemployment rate among young people exceeds 30%.

All this information creates a growing pessimism among the Chinese population, which is especially evident in the decline in the number of births. Noting this situation, the CCP leadership probably decided to react. It is impossible to know whether demonstrations against the intensity of health checks and anti-presidential slogans in several Chinese cities in November were completely spontaneous or controlled from afar.

In a televised address on December 31st, the Chinese leader surprisingly addressed these protest marches, indicating that “In a big country like China, it is natural that everyone has different wishes and viewpoints”, which meant he heard the displeasure. But then the preparation of the Lunar New Year festivities – this year is the celebration of the Water Rabbit – gave the Chinese number one an opportunity to assert his unifying role.

Paternalistic benevolence

During a television news broadcast on Wednesday, January 18, he was filmed in what appeared to be the hall of the People’s Palace. In this video, he is not wearing a mask, unlike several CCP dignitaries standing in the distance behind him. A dialogue is established with different audiences in workplaces. A group of doctors and nurses from a hospital in the northern Chinese city of Harbin made the first contact with the head of state through internal screens. Xi Jinping congratulated them: “Thanks to our policies and your efforts, we mastered Covid.”

Next, the picture shows an elderly man with Covid in his bed, surrounded by two nurses. The Chinese leader asks him: “Do you have all the medicine you need?” Answer: “Yes yes!» «Have a good rest and soon you will be back home to welcome the New Year with your family.”Xi Jinping adds, before speaking with workers at an oil and gas drilling company in Xinjiang province, then with screaming workers and a few travelers at a train station: “President, hello!Xi Jinping responds by wishing them a safe journey and leaving them with this advice: “Put on your masks.”

The footage below shows a wholesale vegetable market, whose officials say they are very satisfied with the current sale of potatoes, and a park revived by members of several tribes of Sichuan, known as “national minorities” in China. Dressing in traditional clothes, they explain to their president that the tourists have returned this year. This allows Xi Jinping to say about the campaigns: “I am particularly concerned about rural areas and our many farming friends.” And to call to resolve “gaps” the fight against Covid in the village

At the very least, this sequence shows that Xi Jinping is paying attention to as many different populations and professions as possible, with paternalistic benevolence. This allows him to develop an image that unites the nation, which could prove to be very useful for him at a time when health, like economic indicators, promises to be difficult for China. This risks undermining the theory propagated by the Chinese Communist Party that in all areas the country’s governance is more efficient than others.

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