XI Jinping’s easing of Covid restrictions in China could lead to his downfall as his cronies will see it as a sign of weakness, according to a former diplomat.
The president has rowed back on his hardline zero-Covid policy after appearing to cave to pressure amid riots and public rebellion.
Relaxing China’s Covid restrictions could lead to Xi Jinping’s downfall, according to an expert
Riot police wearing hazmat suits during protests in Guangzhou
Protesters and cops have clashed during widespread unrest across China
Furious anti-lockdown protests erupted across the country, while fed-up citizens fought back against hazmat-clad enforcers.
Xi’s ultra-strict zero-Covid measures have gripped China for three years – battering China’s economy and fuelling the biggest show of discontent since he took power a decade ago.
But Xi has now relaxed measures in a humiliating climbdown for the dictator.
Roger Garside, former diplomat and author of China Coup: the Great Leap to Freedom, believes Xi’s rule could crumble amid “elite pressure and popular protests” as those in senior ranks of the party may turn against him.
He told Seconds Away: “This easing will indeed be seen as a sign of weakness on Xi’s part, and not only by his inner circle but by public opinion generally in China and abroad.
“From the outset, Xi has proclaimed himself as the master-mind of the zero-Covid policy, asserting that it demonstrates the superiority of China’s political system.
“As recently as October he called it an ‘all-out people’s war’.”
Hundreds took to the streets in eight cities – including Beijing and Shanghai – after the deaths of ten people in an apartment fire was blamed on lockdown rules.
They were dubbed the “white paper revolution” as rioters waved blank sheets of white paper in a symbolic protest against censorship.
China has desperately tried to maintain the hardline policy while keeping the world’s second-largest economy humming.
But the nationwide outpouring of public frustration appears to have finally swayed the opinion of top Communist Party officials.
Under the new measures, restrictions will also be lifted on the sale of cold medications, and vaccinations for the elderly will be stepped up.
Mr Garside believes easing restrictions could lead to a “social and political crisis” should it lead to flurry of deaths.
He said: “If the easing of restrictions leads to a large number of deaths, it could indeed lead to a social and political crisis, and even to his downfall.
“A large number of deaths after easing of restrictions would certainly provoke a new and much greater wave of protests.”
China, which has a population of 1.4billion, has so far reported 5,235 Covid-related deaths and 1,790,000 cases, in what in likely a massive underestimation released by the regime.
But there are fears the death toll could spiral should the country see a full reopening.
According to Zhou Jiatong, head of the Center for Disease Control in southwestern Guangxi region, mainland China could face more than two million deaths if Covid curbs are loosened in the same way Hong Kong’s were last year.
His forecast, published by the Shanghai Journal of Preventive Medicine, also said infections could rocket to more than 233million.
In a sharp turnaround, China has rolled back some of its most strict rules – including slashing the length of lockdowns and ordering pupils to return to classrooms.
China’s National Health Commission confirmed rules will be relaxed in an announcement on Wednesday.
The frequency and scope of PCR testing will be reduced, lockdowns will be scaled down, and people with non-severe Covid cases can isolate at home instead of at overcrowded field hospitals.
People will no longer be required to show proof of Covid tests and a clean bill of health on their phone to enter public buildings and spaces – apart from areas such as nurseries, elderly care facilities and schools.
The new rules have also scrapped the forced quarantines for people with no symptoms or with mild cases.
The scale of lockdowns has been limited to individual apartment floors and buildings, rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods – and lockdowns can last no longer than five days unless additional cases are detected.
Rioters waved blank sheets of white paper in a symbolic protest against censorship
Police officers detained people during a protest against the zero-Covid lockdowns
Some have called the widespread unrest ‘the white paper revolution’