Zero-Covid gives China’s Communist Party security but at what price for a weary people?
- Hypersensitive authorities are tightening coronavirus curbs and limits on speech
- But the lockdown mentality is unsustainable and China can’t forestall much-needed reforms forever
With less than a week to go before the five-yearly conclave opens, mainlanders would normally be speculating about China’s new leadership line-up and contributing to debates over future policy choices and the fate of the country.
A viral message circulating on Chinese social media this week claims that of the country’s 600-odd cities, people travelling from 563 of them are effectively barred from entering the capital in the name of Covid-19 health controls.
Even for those who have grown used to Beijing’s Orwellian-style social controls in the months leading to the party gathering, this is shocking considering the scale of the people affected and the extent of its implications.
Many people, including some of my friends and former colleagues, have complained on social media sites about getting pop-up notifications on health-code apps that prevent them from going to Beijing or elsewhere due to coronavirus flare-ups.
While such extreme curbs would no doubt add to the immeasurable cost of the seemingly endless zero-tolerance policy to the country’s economy, people’s livelihoods and China’s reputation, it has served as a temporary but useful distraction for the leadership in Beijing.
While this line of thinking is obviously problematic given the cost and unsustainability of zero-Covid when the outside world is back to normal, extended pandemic controls have proved useful in giving Beijing a sense of the stability and security it craves at the moment.
But just as former premier Wen Jiabao warned a decade ago, long overdue political reforms, which have become a taboo in China, cannot be stalled forever. Without “urgent” political reform, Wen said the country would still be at risk of seeing a repeat of historical tragedies like the Cultural Revolution.