02/16/2023, 14.14
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Another headache for Xi as thousands of retirees protest cuts in health benefits

by Li Qiang

Protests broke out in Wuhan and Dalian. In Guangdong, provincial authorities withdrew cuts after public protests. Local authorities are trying to fill public coffers after spending billions of yuan on COVID-19 containment measures. The model of modernisation extolled by Xi is faltering.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Thousands of pensioners protested yesterday in Wuhan (Hubei) and Dalian (Liaoning) over provincial cuts to their health benefits.

Videos have been posted online showing groups of demonstrators clashing with police, chanting slogans, and singing "The International", the socialist anthem.

This is the second time in a week that retirees from state-owned enterprises protested against reduced benefits under public insurance schemes. One took place in Wuhan on 8 February in front of the municipal government headquarters.

In Guangzhou (Guangdong) this kind of protests has pushed local administrators to withdraw the measure, Radio Free Asia reports.

On social media, critics accuse provincial governments of cutting health benefits to pensioners in order to cover for the huge cost of prevention measures during three years of pandemic, such as mandatory mass testing and forced hospitalisations in special quarantine facilities.

According to official data, 20 Chinese provinces out of a total of 31 have spent 352 billion yuan (US$ 51.6 billion) on COVID-19 containment measures.

China’s central government has already stated that it will not pay for indebted local authorities, whose poor finances further suffered disruptions under Xi's zero-Covid policy.

After protests broke out at the end of November, draconian anti-COVID-19 restrictions were eased, giving Chinese President Xi Jinping another major headache, made worse by the rising cost of healthcare for Chinese families.

All this comes only a few weeks before the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, which coincides with the beginning of Xi’s third, controversial term in office.

Only a few days ago the supreme leader praised Chinese "modernisation" as a new model of human progress, dispelling the myth that "modernisation is equal to Westernisation”.

The social unrest linked to the country's economic woes will weaken Xi's claims, as well as challenge his political future, which will depend largely on the performance of the country’s economy.

In early January, hundreds of workers protested after they were laid off from a plant making antigen kit for COVID-19 in Chongqing and were paid less than agreed. Videos of protesters clashing with police in riot gear were posted on social media.

On 7 January, workers at the Gogo Garment Manufacturing Ltd – for years the largest undergarment manufacturer in Dongguan (Guangdong), China's main manufacturing hub – also protested for non-payment of wages and social benefits.

Three days after the demonstrations, Gogo shut down, putting 1,700 people out of work.


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