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Chinese official censors himself as he ignores Covid-zero question

China’s spokesperson censors himself after zero Covid question

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Following days of popular unrest across China over the zero-Covid policy, a Chinese official ignored a reporter’s question about if and when the Xi Jinping’s regime would scrap the stringent coronavirus policy. The Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to growing Chinese frustration over the stringent lockdown rules has come under closer scrutiny after riot police was sent last weekend to crack down on protesters. But the foreign ministry’s spokesperson silence has failed to offer any clarity on the government’s response.

A Reuters reporter asked the spokesperson: “Given the widespread display of anger and frustration at the zero-Covid policy in recent days across China, is China thinking about ending it and if so, when?”

A translator can be heard asking the question in Mandarin to Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson who frowned as he understood the question. Despite the reporter’s question, he remained silent and pretended no question had been asked as he shuffled papers on his podium. 

In awkward 17 seconds of silence, the spokesperson appeared to deliberately ignore the question in a move branded as self-censorsip.

Ian Bremmer, President of geopolitical risk firm Euroasia and political analyst, shared the video, saying: “Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian censoring himself before the CPP can with incredibly awkward silence when asked about Xi’s zero covid policy + protests in China.”

After three years of repeated Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, the patience of one billion people in China snapped last weekend. Thousands took the streets in Beijing, Shanghai and beyond to demand an end to Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy. 

An apartment fire in the western city of Urumqi appears to have sparked nationwide protests after ten people reportedly died in the incident. Trapped in her flat, a girl, who lived in a high-rise building, jumped out of the window to escape the raging flames inside her flat.

In the early days of the pandemic and the zero-Covid policy, pregnant Chinese women lost their babies and elderly people died because of a lack of timely access to medical care.

Mounting frustration boiled over into popular unrest across China, with some people demanding Xi Jinping to resign in a first since the Chinese leader came to power. 

Riot police responded with a violent crackdown on protesters, which the country’s top security body called “hostile forces”. BBC journalist Ed Lawrence was detained for several hours in Shanghai and was beaten up and kicked despite his state-sponsored press accreditation, CCTV footage shows. 

A BBC statement said: “It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties.

“We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd.

“We do not consider this a credible explanation.”

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China has wrestled with recurring waves of Covid-19 infections. While authorities carried out a massive vaccine rollout, a lack of highly effective domestic vaccines and the government’s continued refusal to follow the rest of the world in using foreign vaccines has hampered Xi Jinping government’s containment strategy.

Oxford University professor of modern Chinese history Rana Mitter told the BBC: “There’s a dilemma for the government – do they import foreign vaccines which may look embarrassing in nationalistic terms or do they try to hold the line by keeping the borders closed without any end date for this policy?”

The country has tried to lift some of the restrictions, but the move immediately came with a surge in Covid-19 cases – an outcome which Chinese authorities still appear unwilling to accept.

Other countries in the region such as Singapore and Australia transitioned from zero-Covid to living with the virus, with measures that inevitably led to a jump in infections and deaths.

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