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‘World should take notice of this rare protest’: Countries react as lockdown stir intensifies in China

The protests in China, which began on Friday night, are being referred to as the "biggest wave of civil disobedience" since Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago.

People hold white sheets of paper in protest of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, after a vigil for the victims of a fire in Urumqi, as outbreaks of the coronavirus disease continue in Beijing, China, on November 27, 2022. (Photo: Reuters)

As protests against stringent Covid-19 measures imposed by the Chinese government, under President Xi Jinping’s rule, continue to escalate in different parts of the country on Wednesday, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have voiced their support for protesters.

Why is China witnessing a ‘rare’ protest?

The protests, which began on Friday night, are being referred to as the “biggest wave of civil disobedience” since Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago. Crowds took to the streets to demonstrate their anger against the strict anti-virus rules, after a deadly fire in a high-rise building in Urumqi that killed 10 on Thursday night.

Soon after the incident, social media users started blaming the lockdown as residents in the building could not escape in time. However, Urumqi officials have denied the blame on the lockdown. About four million residents of Urumqi have been under the country’s longest lockdown, and barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days.

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Students from across universities in China as well as citizens from cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Chengdu joined the resistance on Sunday night. The protesters, in what qualified as a “rare” protest in China, demonstrated by holding up blank sheets of paper as they demanded President Xi to step down and accept his failure in curbing the spread of the virus and protecting citizens’ lives.

On Tuesday night, the protests escalated in Guangzhou, the manufacturing hub of the country. The angry protesters clashed with all-white hazmat-suited riot police following a dispute over lockdown restrictions.

According to news agency Reuters, China reported 37,828 new COVID-19 infections on November 29, of which 4,288 were symptomatic and 33,540 were asymptomatic. That is compared with 38,645 new cases a day earlier – 3,624 symptomatic and 35,021 asymptomatic infections, which China counts separately.

What are countries saying about the protests in China?

United Kingdom: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Monday said that the Chinese government should “take notice” of the protests happening on the streets of China against the stringent anti-COVID measures implemented in the country. According to a report by the news agency Reuters, Cleverly said, “Protests against the Chinese government are rare and when they do happen I think the world should take notice, but I think the Chinese government should take notice.” “These are the voices of Chinese people talking to their government and I think it’s right that the Chinese government listens to what those people are saying,” he added.

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Soon after protests escalated in the country, China’s foreign ministry stated, “China is a country with rule of law and all rights and freedoms of Chinese citizens are protected but they must be exercised within the framework of the law.” Responding to UK’s comments on the ongoing protests in the country, it said that the British police had been violent towards lockdown protesters in the United Kingdom.

United States: The White House on Monday, in a statement, said that “We’ve long said everyone has the right to peacefully protest, in the United States and around the world.” On being pressed for a longer statement, John F. Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said, “The president is not going to speak for protesters around the world, they’re speaking for themselves.”

People also participated in the anti-government Chinese protests near the Chinese consulate in New York Cnity on Tuesday night. Banners callig for an “end” to dictatorship and “Free China” were raised outside the consulate, in solidarity with the Chinese protesters.

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Canada: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday supported the protesters’ right to express themselves. A report in Reuters highlights what Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. He said, “Canadians are watching very closely, everyone in China should be allowed to express themselves, should be allowed to share their perspectives and indeed protest.”

“We’re going to continue to ensure that China knows we’ll stand up for human rights, we’ll stand with people who are expressing themselves,” he added.

Protesters including students also staged small-scale agitations across cities in Europe, Asia and North America, including London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney, according to a Reuters tally.

China’s stance on protests in the country:

A statement by the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission on Tuesday said that the country’s ruling Communist Party has vowed to “resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces”.

China police have been on the streets to prevent further mass agitations by Chinese citizens. They, along with paramilitary forces have so far conducted random ID checks, and have searched protesters’ mobile phones for pictures, restricted apps, and other cues or potential evidence that confirm their participation in the protests.

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Chinese authorities, though, have eased controls in the country and have announced a move towards vaccinating vulnerable groups following the demonstrations.

First published on: 30-11-2022 at 21:34 IST
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