China’s Covid cases hit 1-month high while state media praises Xi ahead of Party Congress

The number of China’s Covid-19 cases has hit a one-month high, sparking a fresh round of lockdowns aimed at controlling the outbreaks ahead of the Party Congress which is slated to start on 16 Oct (‘China’s Covid Cases Hit One-Month High as Holiday Spots Flare‘, 6 Oct 2022).

China reported 1,138 new local infections for Wednesday (5 Oct 2022), the highest since 9 Sep last month. Many cities and counties are under lockdown. Shanghai, no longer under lockdown, is seeing cases resurfacing. On Wednesday, it reported 11 cases.

Parts of the southern province of Hainan, which just recently got an outbreak under control, were locked down again. The capital, Haikou, ordered all residents to stay at home after four cases surfaced. The popular tourist spot of Sanya city, which ended its last lockdown just two weeks ago, is currently undergoing mass testing and has sealed off some attractions after detecting two asymptomatic cases.
Elsewhere, Guanghan city in Sichuan province were ordered to stay at home starting yesterday (6 Oct 2022) after cases were discovered. It is close to the megacity of Chengdu, which only recently exited a two-week lockdown.
Xinjiang province reported 97 infections, the country’s second-highest tally. All trains and long-distance coaches are suspended, and many flights have been canceled, thereby sealing off the province. Some residents have been reported to have gone hungry and were unable to access medical care during the extended lockdowns.

Chinese state media praises President Xi Jinping

The flare ups are challenging authorities’ efforts to curb Covid’s spread ahead of the Party Congress. President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term in power, after he effected a change in the country’s constitution earlier.

Covid Zero has been a cornerstone of Xi’s leadership. It has been touted by the state media that Covid Zero saves lives, even as social and economic costs are mounting in the country and disregarding how countries around the world have accepted Covid as part of their day to day life.

As the Party Congress meetings approach, Chinese state media and officials have drummed up various praises for Xi ahead of his imminent re-election. The party’s official People’s Daily this week started a new series of columns to boost support for Xi. On Sunday (2 Oct 2022), the newspaper praised “Xi Jinping Thought on diplomacy” as contributing “Chinese wisdom and solutions to solving major global problems”.

“China in the new era adheres to the path of peaceful development. It is determined to embark on a development path with Chinese characteristics, abandoning the traditional Western thinking that powerful countries become hegemon,” it said.

However, Associate Professor Li Mingjiang from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore noted that under Xi’s leadership, there have been “significant setbacks” in China’s foreign relations, particularly the dramatic deterioration in its ties with the US and other Western countries. Beijing’s close ties with Russia and failure to condemn its invasion of Ukraine have also left it in an awkward position.

China defended its position with the Vice-Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu saying at a press conference last week, “We use our actions to tell the world that the era where China is trampled upon by others is long gone – no force can stop China’s development and progress.”

Chinese citizens describe Covid propaganda as “nonsense”

On the Covid pandemic front, the use of propaganda to reassure and rally the Chinese public has been described by netizens as bordering on “nonsense”.
Among the many battle-style slogans that the Chinese propaganda unleashed to rally support for Xi’s Zero Covid policy include:
“We have won the great battle against Covid!”
“History will remember those who contributed!”
“Extinguish every outbreak!”

Thousands of state and social media outlets have echoed Xi’s “Zero Covid” policy and praised the sacrifice of workers trying to control the pandemic. The Chinese government has relied heavily on propaganda to justify its increasingly long lockdowns and burdensome PCR testing requirements. The barrage of messages — online and on television, loudspeakers and social platforms — has become so overbearing that some citizens say it has drowned out their frustrations, downplayed the reality of the country’s tough coronavirus rules and, occasionally, bordered on the absurd.

During the Shanghai lockdown earlier, Jason Xue had no food left in his fridge and couldn’t get out of the house. When he clicked on the government’s social media account, he noticed a message from a top city official vowing to “make every possible endeavor” to address food shortages. Government’s food supply didn’t arrive until about a month later.
“I was extremely angry, panicked and despairing,” Mr Xue said. “The propaganda was resolute and decisive, but it was different from the reality that we didn’t even know whether we could have the next meal.” Eventually, he turned to neighbors for help.

Ms Kong Lingwanyu, a marketing intern in Shanghai, was upset that officials used the phrase “unless necessary” when describing restrictions around things like leaving the home, dining out or gathering with others.

One time, a local official responsible for carrying out coronavirus policies had told her that she should not “buy unnecessary food”. She got angry and retorted, “Who are you to decide the ‘necessity’ for others? It’s totally absurd and nonsense.”

Another Shanghai resident, Yang Xiao, said, “With the Covid control, propaganda and state power expanded and occupied all aspects of our life… Our life was dictated and disciplined by propaganda and state power.”

When people tried to run away from quarantine buildings during an earthquake in Sichuan Province this year, officials were caught on camera blocking them from seeking safety. Videos of the episode were posted online and quickly deleted by censors, who said people should “at least bring masks before escaping from buildings,” even when an earthquake is “highly destructive.” The message was ridiculed by netizens online.

Online videos also showed protests sprouting out every now and then in protest over the covid lockdowns. In one incident, when a protester was shoved into a police car and taken away, one man satirically shouted, “Freedom! Equality! Justice! Rule of law!” Those are the same words commonly cited by state media as core socialist values under Xi’s leadership.
In any case, China’s zero-covid approach will unlikely to end any time soon with Xi’s re-election.
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