Home / Opinion / Views /  Protests may die but a new message for Xi rings loud and clear

At the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October, General Secretary Xi Jinping had warned party cadre to “be more mindful of potential dangers, be prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms". This suggests that there is a fair degree of preparation within the Chinese system to deal with eventualities such as the ongoing mass protests against Xi Jinping’s stringent — and irrational — “Zero-Covid" strategy.

The protests, however, also indicate that despite the perception of Xi’s power and influence having grown with an unprecedented third term as the general secretary following the Congress, he will continue to face challenges to exercising unbridled power, if not from within his party, from the people — no matter the tools of intimidation that the party has at its command.

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It also tells us exactly what the Chinese people themselves think of the CPC’s attempts to show-case a supposedly more efficient and ‘Chinese’ approach to dealing with crises and issues of governance. As long as the rest of the world suffered so obviously and visibly from the ravages of Covid-19 at a time when vaccines were unavailable and governments did not have either the means or the will to enforce strict lockdowns, the Chinese party-state looked good by comparison. It had built makeshift hospitals at unprecedent scale and with astonishing speed, and blanketed the world with propaganda to first deny any role or responsibility in the spread of the virus beyond its borders and then to portray its Zero-Covid strategy as the most appropriate one for the rest of the world, too. While China did contribute significantly with medical aid and assistance, the objective was equally to show up the failure of other major powers to share resources and provide assistance in a timely manner. Foreign interlocutors were thus quoted by state media as praising China’s “highly responsible attitude" and “the superiority of the Chinese system".

The protests that have broken out across China, however, suggest that nearly three years since the first outbreak of Covid-19 was reported from Wuhan, the Chinese people themselves are not buying this so-called “superiority" of their political system and governance methods.

These developments also suggest that the argument that democracies are somehow inefficient in providing public goods and services when compared with authoritarian states is simply not true. That section of Indians especially, who have a tendency to consider India’s democracy as a weakness and as somehow holding the country back from making faster and greater progress, should watch and learn to dig a little deeper when it comes to China. For every step forward China has taken, there have also been great costs borne by ordinary Chinese whether in terms of environmental pollution or the massive income inequalities that exist between individuals and between the various localities in China today.

The problem, therefore, is not “too much democracy" as some Indians argue but a lack of accountability that allows incompetence and mediocrity to thrive. The CPC under General Secretary Xi has tried to cover up the shortcomings of the present Chinese political system and its desire to hold on to power by frequently coming up with slogans and campaigns to ‘re-educate’ and shape the minds of the people. Thus, we have slogans such as “whole-process democracy", which are vague and inchoate and are designed only to offer a veneer of Chinese adherence to democracy.

The protests in China might not eventually sustain under pressure of the Stalinist methods of the party-state, but the Chinese people have made their point loud and clear.

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