A week after China eased its zero-COVID policy, China’s vice premier Sun Chunlan rushed to Beijing on Tuesday, December 13, to lead the epidemic prevention. But this time, she did not mention the dynamic Zero-COVID. Some sinologists in France wonder whether the CCP has completely given up on the zero-COVID policy and whether Xi Jinping still maintains absolute power within the Party. 

According to the CCP mouthpiece Xinhua News, vice premier Sun Chunlan went to Beijing on Tuesday. In Beijing, she asked for implementing and optimizing measures to prevent the COVID pandemic. In particular, she changed the focus from “infection prevention and control” to “medical treatment” and didn’t mention the dynamic Zero-COVID policy. 

Before, Sun Chunlan was named CCP’s “City Lockdown Aunt.” She has also been the person to put Xi Jinping’s strict COVID rules into place. According to the New York Times, her presence in any city was seen as an ominous sign of a lockdown.

The pandemic situation in China is also getting worse.

Last Wednesday, December 7, Beijing announced the “New Ten Rules” to loosen the COVID measures. 

Many places have stopped requiring all employees to take COVID tests and have removed restrictions on entering and leaving public places, taking public transportation, and traveling between regions.

As of Wednesday, December 14, although the number of infected cases has reached a record high, many people, especially in Beijing, told the opposite story. They said that people around them were getting infected one after another. Many elders pass away from chronic diseases after getting COVID. The numbers went up fast.

China’s National Health Commission said on Wednesday, December 14, that it would stop posting data about asymptomatic cases because it could not count them accurately.

On the same day, WHO Executive Director for Health Emergencies Dr. Mike Ryan said that COVID-19 infections had been spreading intensively in China for a long time, even before Beijing lifted its strict Zero-COVID measures. 

According to Reuters, WHO usually does not comment on the private policies of individual countries. But in May, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China’s COVID policy was unsustainable.

According to France’s state-owned Radio France Internationale, the high-profile “zero-COVID” program of the Xi Jinping administration has failed miserably. Still, the government hasn’t tried to justify itself as usual. In fact, Beijing gave up on its long-maintained “Zero-COVID” policy in such a short amount of time, quickly loosening ties without any cover-up. This makes people wonder what happened to the upper echelon of the Party, who are supposed to unite in opinion, at least on the surface. 

In November, protests erupted in more than a dozen cities in China. People were pouring into the street, raising slogans such as “Xi Jinping, step down,” “Communist Party, step down,” “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock China,” and “do not want PCR (tests), want freedom … press freedom”. As the number of protesters grew, the residents clashed with the police.

Jean-Philippe Béja, a French political scientist and sinologist, wrote a commentary in “Le Monde” on Tuesday, December 13. She asked who could believe that once, Xi Jinping called the Zero-COVID policy the symbol of superiority for China’s socialist system. But that symbol quickly collapsed under public pressure. She asked whether Xi heard the voice of the people.

Béja said that, under normal circumstances, the government would the first crackdown on the protests and throw the protest leaders in jail. Then they would slow down the policy, in this case, Zero-COVID, to calm the public’s anger. She said that the Chinese government changed its attitude so fast that people had to ask what was happening inside the CCP. 

Béja said that Xi Jinping got rid of all possible opponents to the Politburo during the 20th National Congress. But are there still enemies of Xi left within the Party? Maybe someone within the Party has accused Xi’s Zero-COVID of damaging the economy and sparking public anger. Perhaps someone wants to impose a change of route to prevent Xi’s stubbornness from delegitimizing the CCP. Whatever the case, Béja said that a month after Xi strengthened his role as Party’s top leader, the protests have weakened his image. 

But according to Béja, the most shocking thing is that at the memorial service for Jiang Zemin, Xi Jinping said that Jiang had himself asked him to step down as central leader. This announcement serves as a subtle criticism of the re-election of Xi. How could this happen? This news was even announced in all national media. Béja wonders whether Xi still holds full power. Is Xi in the same position as Mao Zedong after the failure of the Great Leap Forward in 1962, when Mao had to self-criticize and move backward to the “second line”?

The answers to those questions will remain a mystery for the time being.

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