Xi’s “People’s War” on Covid

Alessandro Ponzetto | April 28th, 2022

We have been covering the Covid-related restrictions and its economic effects for some time, but there is much more to this. As mentioned time and again, Xi himself called this the “people’s war”, with the earliest instance being on February 6, 2020.

While I find this notion particularly amusing, considering only a month prior people got arrested for ‘spreading misinformation’, there is a kernel of truth to this: the authorities have put in place draconian measures to drive Covid down, while at the same time producing questionable accounts (like the death count in Shanghai).

All this seems to have had negative effects with regards to support, as more people are looking to move abroad. The following chart, produced by Nikkei Asia, shows the frequency of searches on Weibo, a heavily-censored internet platform in China.

While this is not indicative of a pick-up in migration, it is nonetheless a small sign of discontent. This is especially true for Shanghai, which has been the most cosmopolitan city in mainland China since the XIX century.

The city has been attempting to become the next major economic centre of Asia, but the current Zero-Covid policy is hampering this aspiration, as workers are required to live in their offices due to the ‘closed-loop’ measures. For example, SMIC, a chip manufacturer in the mainland, has more than 60% of its workers sleeping in the factories, just to avoid the complete closure of the plants.

There is however an even better example of how draconian and absurd this policy is: Guangzhou, capital of the rich and politically powerful Guangdong province. Today, several flights have been cancelled and mass testing started for 5.6 million people (almost a third of its population), and all because of a single suspected case of Covid (or more precisely an “abnormal” test result).

Then of course there is Beijing itself, which has introduced strict measures after the mass testing of its entire 20-million population yielded a whopping 12 positive cases. As mentioned in Macro – April 26, Beijing is not as important as Shanghai economically, but having the capital placed under draconian lockdown over two years since this ‘people’s war’ started could be a potential hit for Xi Jinping and the cadres loyal to him.

While the people do not have a say on the 20th Party Congress, as only the Party Members have some say in what is a de facto plebiscite on Xi’s leadership, the potential for discontent stemming from the lockdowns could be weaponized by someone within the CCP. As of now, there is no clear figurehead capable of challenging Xi, but the dear leader should be aware of this eventuality and act accordingly.

For this reason, I suggest paying attention going forward to the crackdown on officials and other important people, as an uptick in the ‘anti-corruption campaign’ would be the most convenient way for Xi to secure his seat, using Covid or whatever else as an excuse.

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