Xi Jinping’s unrepentant faith in continuing the zero-COVID national strategy is breeding public unrest throughout the People’s Republic of China. Demonstrations have broken out in at least eight mainland cities as well as Hong Kong since Friday. The government has eased some of the controls and policies in light of the demonstrations, but this is still clearly a carrot and stick situation. Right behind the easing of select controls comes the decision by at least twelve universities in Beijing and the Guangdong Province to send their students home and conduct final exams remotely. Dispersing students back to their hometowns cuts down on the prospect of further demonstrations, thus serving to help defuse the situation. The police presence in Beijing and other urban areas has been reinforced and made more visible.
China’s zero-COVID strategy was never intended to last forever. Yet between almost continuous COVID outbreaks and Xi’s stubborn refusal to bend, it seems like forever to millions of Chinese citizens. The deaths of 10 people in an apartment fire in the city of Urumqi on Thursday has been the catalyst for this round of anti-zero-COVID protests and demonstrations. Almost instinctively, many citizens questioned whether COVID restrictions contributed to the deaths. Urumqi had been under zero-COVID lockdown since August.
What happens next remains uncertain. If the unrest continues and grows, the central government will be forced to implement more censorship restrictions. This will serve as the precursor to a heavy-handed crackdown. On the other hand, if the unrest dies out by later this week most of China’s cities will return to a zero-COVID normalcy. One way or another, zero-COVID has to be overhauled or discarded entirely. The damage it causes to China and its economy increases with every passing day. The sooner Xi realizes this, the better. Unfortunately, it does not appear that China’s leader will come to the realization anytime soon.
Nine months into the war finds Ukraine’s allies struggling to keep Ukraine supplied with arms and ammunition. As a rule, expenditure of ammunition and material in a war will exceed pre-war estimates. Ukraine is a classic example of this, requiring an almost constant resupply from the West to keep its armies fighting. Both Russia and Ukraine are burning through ammo and material at a pace not seen in Europe since World War II. This incessant demand for weapons, ammunition and other material is starting to wear down European, and even US supplies and war stocks. Armories in many NATO nations have been stripped of artillery, anti-tank missiles, ammunition and air defense missiles for Ukraine. There is dangerously little remaining in NATO stockpiles. Now, the West scrambles to continue supplying Ukraine while simultaneously replenishing its own stockpiles.
As Russian missile attacks against Ukraine’s power facilities increases, the Ukrainian government is considering a limited evacuation of Kiev residents to other areas where services have not been disrupted. The Russian attacks have brought on power outages and the water supply in much of Kiev has been disrupted. Kiev’s mayor, former heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klitschko told the British Broadcasting Company, “This is a temporary relocation of certain categories of people to the suburbs, where there may be services.”
With damage caused by Russian attacks and winter weather setting in, the national power grid is going to be taxed immeasurably between December and late February in many areas of Ukraine. Emergency cut-offs of electricity will become more common as the days go by. It is almost assured that Ukraine will need assistance from abroad to prevent a collapse of its electrical grid.
Author’s Note: I apologize for the longer-than-expected delay. That bug was a little more resilient than expected. It would seem the end of 2022 is shaping up to be busy so I’m getting on the ball. China update tomorrow and then we’ll go from there.
Following the pre-G20 meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as Xi’s apparent diplomatic outreach at the G20, China’s defense ministry is open to meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a gathering of ASEAN defense ministers in Cambodia set for Tuesday or Wednesday. An actual meeting between Austin and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe has not been officially scheduled, but it does seem likely the two defense chiefs will meet while in Cambodia. Austin and Wei have not met or communicated since China suspended dialogue with the US in August after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. On the surface this appears to be the latest indication that relations between the US and China are moving in a more positive direction now.
Whether this holds true remains to be seen, but it’s evident that Beijing wants to at least be viewed as seeking a more productive relationship with the US and nations in the Western Pacific. For the domestic audience it portrays an image of China being treated as an equal. This has the potential to provide much needed political dividends for Xi down the line as the future of COVID-19 restrictions remains fluid. On the international stage the image of a less assertive and belligerent China should give Xi a temporary buffer and allow him to either deal with the slew of domestic matters or set the stage for the next phase of maneuvers on the geopolitical chessboard. Or both, perhaps.
After yesterday afternoon’s mass rush to judgment by many in the media regarding the missile that landed in Poland, this morning they are being forced to walk back their initial claims. As have a number of politicians and government officials in Ukraine, Poland and across Europe. The reason for this because the preliminary investigation has revealed the missile was not fired by the Russian military. It seems the missile was likely launched by Ukrainian air defense forces likely during a Russian cruise missile attack. Components of the missile, an SA-10 Grumble, came down near the Polish village of Przewodów and killed two Poles.
Both NATO and the Polish government said earlier there is no indication of a deliberate Russian attack. In Ukraine, the government in Kiev has amended its position on the matter. After vociferously blaming Russia for the act, government officials have become rather quiet and are requesting access to the site of the blast. In Brussels NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said there will be no Article 4 meeting until the investigations have been completed.
Yesterday’s incident caused anxiety and concern around the Western world. Since the start of the war in Ukraine the possibility of the fighting spilling across the border into the territory of a NATO member-state and widening the conflict has been a major concern from Washington to Brussels. The first reports from Poland made it appear as if NATO’s greatest fear was coming to life. Luckily, as time went on it became clear this was not the case.
It’s been a tension-filled afternoon and evening on NATO’s Eastern Flank after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland, a short distance away from the Ukrainian frontier. It did not take long for the media to assume the missile belonged to the Russian military. In the absence of facts, the media speculated, and soon the Polish government called an emergency meeting. Social media reports took over from here and it was not very long before World War III was trending on Twitter and other platforms this afternoon.
As it stands now, there has been no confirmation that the missiles were Russian, in spite of supposed remarks by a US ‘intelligence official’ that they were. The US government, as well as other Western allies are investigating but have not been able to confirm the cause of the explosion. Two Polish citizens were killed in the blast, however little beyond this is known for certain. Consultations are taking place across Europe this evening. Poland has invoked Article 4 and tomorrow NATO ambassadors will meet to discuss the matter in detail.
Russia has denied that any of its missiles had been targeted at any points in proximity to the Polish border. The incident did occur around the same time a heavy wave of Russian missiles struck power infrastructure targets around Ukraine, causing considerable damage.
As the night goes on, hopefully more solid information will become known. We’ll follow up with an update here late tomorrow morning.