04/21/2022, 16.12
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Xi's 'zero-Covid' policy: growing discontent

by John Ai

Economic growth at 4.8% in the first quarter; unemployment at 6% in March, the highest since 2018. In preparation for the 20th Communist Party Congress, the Chinese president's line doesn't change. Lockdowns spark citizen protests. Companies struggle to survive.

Rome (AsiaNews) - China has announced 4.8% GDP growth year-on-year in the first quarter, while the unemployment rate across 31 major cities rose to 6% in March, the highest on record since 2018 according to official data. As the ongoing lockdown across China, analyses say that the economic slowdown will impact the 5.5% annual growth expected by the top leaders of China.

The 4.8% growth of the first quarter has beat the economists’ expectations, however most of the increases were recorded during January and February, according to a report in the New York Times. Two economic and manufacturing hubs Shenzhen and Shanghai have experienced strict lockdown, and the harsh policy is still going on the Shanghai. The infection of highly contagious Omicron is still spreading, and multiple cities continue implementing lockdown and travel restrictions. It is anticipated that the statistics for April will likely worsen as the lockdown continues and the uncertainty of the economy increases.

Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management said that “the unemployment problem in the large cities has become more severe than when the Covid Pandemic started in 2020”. As the pandemic extends to the third year, new graduates will impose pressure on employment. It is expected the number of graduates of higher education reaches 10.76 million this year, according to China’s Ministry of Education.

Given that the lockdown has impacted the economy, the top leaders still stick to the Zero-Covid policy. People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, advocated all the people to support Xi Jinping’s Zero-Covid policy, which implies that the policy that has made severe consequences on the social life, economy, and supply chain remain unchanged. People’s Daily argued that the practice of these two years proved that Xi’s guideline on epidemic prevention is “correct and effective”.

The zero-Covid policy has become a political task for the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in the autumn. Ma Xiaowei, the director of China’s National Health Commission, wrote in Study Times, the mouthpiece of the Central Party School of CCP, that the false opinions of co-existence with the virus must be opposed, in order to greet the 20th Congress of CCP. Xi Jinping is expected to remain in office as the supreme leader, while the Politburo will reshuffle in the congress.

The lockdown in Shanghai began at the end of March and is still ongoing. The date it is still unknown when restrictions will be lifted. On 20 March, Shanghai authorities announced 17 deaths of Covid. Jin Dongyan of the University of Hong Kong, Professor in Precision Medicine argues that the authorities have been emphasizing the risk of Covid, and now they admit the deaths to justify their standpoint since it is not reasonable that there is no death.

However, ramifications of the strict lockdown have surfaced: people suffering from chronic disease are not able to access treatment; the old cannot get proper care under lockdown. Almost all medical workers in Shanghai are assigned to deal with Covid.

Residents are fretting about the prolonged lockdown and the anger is growing. Besides lacking food and necessities, people are forced to quarantine in the temporary hospitals and facilities designated by the authorities. Online posts complain about the harsh condition in the facilities, such as lacking hot water, toilets without water to flush, and even babies and toddlers being quarantined without parents’ care.

The lockdown has drawn protests and authorities are muffling different voices. Even the first sentence of China’s national anthem, “Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves” is censored on social networks. Online videos show residents shouting at police, asking to unleash the lockdown. In some places, there were conflicts between protesters and police. In Zhangjiang Town of Shanghai, authorities appropriated an apartment, and residents of the apartment protested. Online videos show police dispersed the protestors by force.

Shanghai authorities released a whitelist of 666 companies that are allowed to operate in “a closed-loop” and all workers must stay in the companies. Staff, raw materials and logistics are still major obstacles under the strict lockdown policy. The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China wrote to China’s State Council to urge authorities to change the strict Zero-Covid policy. Shuichi Akamatsu, Consul General of Japan in Shanghai wrote to Zong Ming, vice mayor of Shanghai and expressed concern about the difficulties of Japanese companies. Shuichi Akamatsu wrote that Japanese companies have to shift their production to other regions and abroad.



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