In a significant escalation of political unrest, protests against China's strict zero-COVID policy spread to several cities and university campuses across the country, with demonstrators in Shanghai calling for President Xi Jinping to step down.
After erupting in the Xinjiang region, social media footage indicates that demonstrations have now broken out in Nanjing, Urumqi, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Beijing, where street protesters tore down a physical COVID barrier.
The Chinese Communist Party has pursued a zero-COVID policy, cracking down on any virus transmission by implementing stringent lockdown measures that confine millions of people to their homes for months on end. But case numbers have begun to surge recently.
Police using pepper spray drove away demonstrators in Shanghai who called for Xi Jinping to step down and an end to one-party rule, but hours later people rallied again in the same spot. Police again broke up the demonstration,
In Shanghai, police pepper-sprayed around 300 protesters on Saturday night, the Associated Press reported. The demonstrators demanded that President Xi Jinping resign and called for the end of his Communist Party's rule. Hours later, people demonstrated again in the same spot; police again broke up the protest, the AP said.
In an unprecedented wave of public dissent, protesters have jostled with lab-coat-wearing officials and held up blank pieces of paper in defiance of the authoritarian regime.
The protests began in the wake of a fire on Thursday night that killed 10 people in an apartment in Urumqi, the Xinjiang regional capital, and that some protesters allege was worsened by the strict enforcement of the lockdown policy. Beijing stands accused of human rights violations against Uyghurs, a Muslim minority, in Xinjiang, a region in the far west of the country.
Amnesty International appealed to the Chinese government to allow peaceful protest. “The tragedy of the Urumqi fire has inspired remarkable bravery across China,” said the group’s regional director, Hanna Young, according to the AP. “These unprecedented protests show that people are at the end of their tolerance for excessive COVID-19 restrictions.”
European Council President Charles Michel is traveling to China to meet Xi on December 1, as the EU reassesses its economic dependence on China against the backdrop of Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine, which China has not publicly condemned.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz acknowledged earlier this month that Beijing's methods for fighting the coronavirus “differ greatly” from those of Berlin, but that the two governments are aligned in the battle against the pandemic. Scholz announced during a visit to China in early November that the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine would be offered to expats in China.