Covid, Russia and Economy put the ‘China Model’ to the test

A year ago, while many countries were still recovering from Covid-19, China seemed to be one of the few places thriving through the pandemic. was also the only major economy that reported growth in 2020. Global investors were bullish in Chinese stocks even as Beijing’s regulatory crackdown in his private sector it became more of a political campaign.

That led some people in China to argue that its one-party authoritarian regime offered a convincing alternative to traditional liberal democracy. The United States was declining politically and economically, they said, and the world was “gravitating towards china.” Many Chinese applauded the online narrative.

A year later, the tone inside China is more one of anxiety, anger and despair. In the last month, hundreds of millions of people have struggled under lockdowns like coronavirus outbreaks spread across the country. Foreign investors are dumping Chinese actions in the face of geopolitical, regulatory and pandemic uncertainties. And the government’s support for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia while wage war in ukraine he has risked criticism from the world and, potentially, sanctions.

All of this leads to increasingly anxious questions about the country’s path, and even whether too much power has been concentrated in the hands of the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, who is seeking a third five-year term at the Communist Party congress at the end of the year.

On social networks, a growing number of citizens accuse the Communist Party of breaching its social contract with the people. They had tolerated, and sometimes praised, one-party rule in exchange for economic growth and social stability. But its strict confinement measures, which are forcing entire citiesand his regulatory crackdowns are costing many of them jobs and income and leaving their futures much more uncertain and bleak than it was a few years ago.

After an official newspaper, Guangming Daily, published a comment about the government’s persistence in enforcing its “zero-Covid” policy, which has led to severe and unpredictable lockdowns, users on the social media platform Weibo posted almost 10,000 comments, with the vast majority urging the government to end the strategy. “Please read these comments. Look at the lives of ordinary people,” wrote a user named Diqiuren1990. All comments disappeared the next day after the comments feature was disabled.

After the Chinese ambassador to the United States. wrote an opinion piece For The Washington Post on China’s position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of social media users on WeChat were quick to post comments on a Chinese translation. The vast majority of those posts criticized China’s position, which is pro-Russia under the guise of neutrality. “There is no neutrality in the fight between justice and evil,” read one comment. “Straddling between two boats will only end up falling into the water.” All those comments also ended up censored.

And a viral video with the headline “China’s Glory and Dream Disappearing” lamented the disastrous impact of the government’s crackdown on the private sector. It was liked by many of the country’s top investors, academics and businessmen, including a co-founder of Tencent, China’s largest internet company, who had left the company. The video has been deleted.

Privately, some academics and businessmen are discussing growing concerns about Xi’s approach to rivaling the United States and proving the viability of the Chinese political model, an approach some worry has become an obsession.

Competition between countries, Mr. Xi has said, is ultimately competition between political systems. The handling of the pandemic “made it clear that the country’s leadership and political system is superior,” he said. saying top charts in January 2021. “Time and momentum are on our side.”

Chinese citizens must be extremely careful when criticizing Mr. Xi, some of whose critics have been sentenced to as much as 18 years in prison. Thus, some resort to quoting previous top leaders to express their frustration that Mr Xi has strayed from the proven path of reform and opening up that brought the country decades of prosperity.

Some cited the country’s former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping as saying the two countries that benefited most from China’s invasion were Japan and Imperial Russia, and to some extent the Soviet Union, a roundabout way of saying that China should distance itself from Russia.

They shared images of former President Jiang Zemin sharing a dance with Bernadette Chirac, the wife of former French President Jacques Chirac, in 1999. Those were the days when China was most popular in the world.

They cited former President Hu Jintao’s famous instruction that China must “avoid self-inflicted setbacks,” which a Chinese diplomat interpreted how to avoid political campaigns such as the Cultural Revolution that plunged the country into chaos and destitution. Quoting that in the current context amounts to a not-so-indirect criticism of Mr Xi’s style of government.

They even used the Soviet Union as an example to prove the danger of dictatorship. A modern nation “should have the system in place to prevent one person from driving the entire nation over the edge,” according to one article published on WeChat, the social media platform.

The public’s pent-up anger may not be enough to sway Beijing’s decision-making or threaten the Communist Party government, which is used to keeping people in line through indoctrination and intimidation. But it marks a departure from the heavy silence that has prevailed under the Xi government.

Two years ago, China celebrated the merits of its top-down approach to governance by pointing to its success in building a new hospital in just 10 days in Wuhan and contain the spread of the coronavirus in three months. Nowadays, many people see makeshift quarantine centers as a symbol of Beijing’s stubborn insistence on a costly coronavirus policy that seems to serve mainly the purpose of demonstrating the superiority of its system.

The country’s relentless pandemic control measures are being dubbed the “white scare,” a nod to the vast army of neighborhood workers who wear white hazmat suits. People have shared videos and photos of protests in which protesters chanted, “We need to work!” and “We have to eat!”

Some commentators said that Beijing had squandered its initial success in bringing the pandemic under control because it believed that its political will alone would be enough to defeat the virus. They questioned why the government had not spent the enormous resources it deployed on mass testing and quarantines in a vaccination campaign, especially among the elderly. They asked whether Beijing was irresponsible in not approving the most effective Western vaccines out of national pride.

Many accused the government of not realizing the huge sacrifices businesses and individuals had to make, or complained that people were struggling to get by and falling behind on mortgages and other personal loans. They were angry that some people had died of heart attacks, asthma, cancer and other illnesses because hospitals turned them away under Covid restriction guidelines.

“As long as you don’t die of covid, you can die of any cause,” says a viral joke online.

Beijing stands firm in the face of public resentment.

“In the past two years, China has fully demonstrated the significant advantage of its political system and its strong national ability to contain the pandemic.” read a comment in the state newspaper People’s Daily on Monday. The zero covid policy is a “line of defense that a nation of 1.4 billion people will have to uphold,” he said.

Beijing also appeared to have gone out of its way to support Russia by publishing a series of official comments blaming US hegemony for the war in Ukraine. On Tuesday, a comment in the People’s Daily he called the United States “the initiator” of the war, which he called a “crisis”. On Wednesday another comment on the same page he said the United States was “adding fuel to the fire” by providing military assistance to Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia.

That’s troubling for many people who are concerned that Beijing’s pro-Moscow stance could hasten China’s disengagement from the West, or even lead to Russia-like sanctions that would have huge implications on technology, trade and markets. capital.

“Is it good or bad if China is on the same side of the Iron Curtain as Russia?” nationalist writer Wang Xiaodong asked his Weibo followers. His conclusion: China should do everything possible to avoid the scenario because it would have to pay an extremely high price.

The only policy area where Beijing has caved in a bit has been its regulatory crackdown on the private sector. After a sharp sell-off in Chinese stocks in mid-March, China’s economic czar Liu He urged government agencies to implement market-friendly policies and show caution in introducing any measures that could hurt markets.

But China’s campaign-style regulatory crackdown has done damage. Massive job cutsonce rare in China, it’s happening in tech, real estate, education and online gaming, some of the industries hit hardest by the crackdown. Publications on unemployment they are widely shared as a gloomy sentiment grips the educated middle class.

“Standing at this historic turning point, we look back to the Golden Age,” read an online publication about China’s four decades of economic transformation and dreams of individual prosperity. “We all thought it would be our future,” she said. “It turned out to be a wishful dream.”

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