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.
Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will hold a face-to-face meeting on Monday in Indonesia just before the opening of the G20 summit. This will be the first in-person meeting between the US and Chinese leaders since Biden took office in January 2021 and comes at a point where Sino-US tensions are on the rise due to several issues from the war in Ukraine to Taiwan. Members of the Biden administration have said the purpose of the mini summit will be to set expectations. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters today that Biden “will get to sit in the same room with Xi Jinping, be direct and straightforward with him as he always is and expect the same in return from Xi.”
It is worth mentioning that Biden tried the same approach with Vladimir Putin in Switzerland back in the summer of 2021 and it failed miserably. Hence the Russia-Ukraine war currently raging.
For this go-around, the stakes are higher for the United States. Xi has consolidated his hold on power and appears to be chomping at the bit to confront the US should Washington decide on a policy of containment to hold back an expansionist move on the part of Xi and China. Biden placed himself and the nation in a corner when he publicly affirmed that the US will defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. That comment, coupled with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan sent US-China relations plummeting and introduced an period of Chinese military exercises around the island-nation as well as a round of attempted coercive diplomacy by Beijing around the Western Pacific.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in the People’s Republic of China and providing an early test of Xi Jinping’s Zero-COVID doctrine in the aftermath of Xi capturing a third term in power. There was hope the Chinese leader would lighten the restrictive Zero-COVID policies in the recent CCP congress, but this did not occur. Concern is growing over the economic and social blowback Zero-Covid continues to bring. A new wave of lockdowns has been instituted in multiple locations. In the city of Zhengzhou, the largest iPhone factory in the PRC has been at least partially quarantined. Video shared on social media showed scenes of employees breaking out from the factory campus. This is hardly the vanguard of a coming social unrest wave, but the Chinese government would be wise to not dismiss this as an anomaly. With the economy still struggling to recover from the pandemic, Xi can ill afford to have a recalcitrant population.
Yesterday Russia halted its participation in a UN-brokered grain deal following a ‘major drone attack’ on the Russian Black Sea Fleet near its homeport of Sevastopol. Of course, Moscow blames Ukraine for the attack and its withdrawal from the trade deal effectively halts Ukrainian grain exports. The UN was shaken by Russia’s decision and is moving to convince Moscow to reverse course. This deal has helped reduce global food prices since its implementation in July. Over 9 million tons of grain and other food products have been exported since then.
Very brief update this Saturday afternoon and I’m very sorry for that. Feeling a bit under the weather with the change of seasons. I will post a more detailed entry tomorrow. Monday at the latest depending how I feel.
Xi Jinping will assuredly be granted a third term as China’s leader when the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party begins on Sunday. When the congress concludes next week, Xi will have a free hand to commence efforts aimed at challenging the United States position as the dominant global power. However, Xi might have to delay putting any major efforts on this front into motion until he can contend with the PRC’s growing economic difficulties. Of course, there is always the possibility that China’s economic malaise, should it deepen and pose a threat to Xi’s hold on power, could be the spark that brings on a military clash between China and the United States.
There is much to discuss on this topic, as well as the war in Ukraine, where some US officials I spoke to off the record last week claim Washington is now pushing, quietly and behind the scenes, for Ukraine to explore a negotiated settlement to the fighting.
Here we are six days into October and it’s apparent the remainder of the month will be an active one around the world. Multiple situations deserve monitoring from the continuing war in Ukraine to the effects it is having in Europe and other places. In China the twice-a-decade Communist Party congress is less than two weeks away. President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a third term in office, prompting speculation about this will mean for the Taiwan situation, relations with the United States, and China’s lackluster economic growth of late.
Newcomers to the potential hotspot table this month will be North Korea and the simmering Hellenic-Turk rivalry in the Aegean Sea. North Korea just recently fired an MRBM over Japan, prompting the end of a heavy missile test schedule in the later days of September and early October. There is growing speculation that Pyongyang will schedule its long-expected nuclear weapon test for the days leading up to the Communist Party congress’s start in China. The North’s last test look place in September, 2017 a short time before the commencement of a BRICS conference in China. Despite China being North Korea’s closest ally, a test on the eve of the Communist Party congress would strain relations at least for a brief period, while sending a message to the rest of the world about the pace and direction of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. On the flip side, a nuclear test has been anticipated by the US, South Korea and Japan since around late April and it has yet to materialize. There is no solid data indicating a test will take place in the coming days or weeks.
Meanwhile, relations between Greece and Turkey have become more strained since late summer over what Ankara claims is a Greek military buildup on islands in the Aegean Sea. Following a brief ease of tensions earlier in the summer months Ankara and Athens are increasing the rhetoric. This occurs periodically, but the danger of the rivalry becoming a military clash is always present.