Writer Bidisha Saha As the Chinese Community Party (CCP) becomes more authoritarian, a growing number of Chinese citizens are speaking out against the oppressive regime, according to a recent report by the Washington-based think tank Freedom House. In light of the increasing number of protests and the government’s continued, adamant resistance, the fault lines appear to be widening.
Recent protest videos posted on Twitter show growing unrest among Guangzhou residents, one of China’s largest cities with a population of almost 19 million. Guangzhou is located in the Haizhu district. In a display of public resentment over the Covid-19 restrictions, hundreds of protesters were seen gathering in the streets and attempting to push through police barricades. In order to impose a mandatory lockdown due to the increasing number of coronavirus cases, protesters can be seen attempting to scale walls.
In order to comprehend the effects of China’s “zero-covid” policy, India Today spoke with Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Health Security Scholar from the Johns Hopkins Center whose research focuses on biosecurity and pandemic preparedness. For the sake of “raw power,” he describes it as an “irrational unscientific fantasy” that is being imposed on the populace, and he claims that “if optimal Covid management were the goal, mRNA vaccines would have long been made available in China.”
He continues, “The Chinese people have correctly recognised that their authoritarian, individual rights-crushing government has failed them, and hopefully, dissent is just the start of a process to hold them accountable for prohibiting life.
According to reports from Reuters, Twitter is officially blocked in Xi Jinping’s China, and internet policing units have been working to remove any Weibo posts on the topic of “riots” and “protests” with hashtags.
China has been expanding its surveillance on people and transmission channels within the nation by using intrusive technologies like grid management systems, pervasive surveillance, and targeted populations management. However, it is almost unbelievable that one party has created a revolutionary system to stifle citizens’ propensity for activism. The China Dissent Monitor, a recent Freedom House project, has discovered that Chinese citizens regularly and widely express their discontent with the government.
WHO IS DISSENT MONITOR CHINA (CDM)?
The CDM strives to gather and disseminate information about the frequency and variety of dissent in mainland China. It was established to close the information gap caused by media restrictions and associated risks in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Since May 18, 2022, the China Dissent Monitor has recorded 735 protests and other dissenting events on the Chinese mainland. Housing project delays, pay and benefits, state violence, fraud, building and school disputes, and Covid-19 policies were reportedly the main causes of these. Around 70% of these protests were mass gatherings, but there were also banner protests, group petitions, blockades of traffic, and online dissent through widespread hashtag movements and viral posts.
PERIODICITY OF DISSENT
The report from Freedom House acknowledges that the protest numbers are “dramatically underrepresented,” but it still maintains that a minimum of 8,775 people collectively took part in the 636 offline dissent events.
DIFFERENCE IN DISSENT
Regarding the variety of protests covered by the report, Kevin Slaten, the research lead for CDM at Freedom House, told India Today that “CDM tracked nearly 20 different forms of offline and online dissent, from street demonstration to strikes, to obstruction and occupation, to signs and graffiti, to performance art, and online hashtag movements.”
“People in China are using a variety of ways to express grievances and protect their rights in conflict with powerful actors, despite systematic efforts by the one-party regime to prevent collective action and mobilisation,” the author continues. The purpose of CDM is to raise those voices.
Top protest issues
43 percent of all CDM-recorded dissent events were led by real estate investors, and 73 percent of those incidents were related to delayed housing projects. While developers are the most frequent target of these protests, 27% also involve administration-targeted actions to demand accountability.
Real estate developers are having trouble finding funding for projects since Xi Jinping imposed “three red lines” in 2016 to limit the debt for real estate companies. The construction of many housing projects has stalled as a result of this ongoing debt crisis combined with COVID restrictions, placing buyers in difficult financial situations. They are compelled to manage both the rent for their current residence and mortgage payments for unfinished projects.
Additionally, 37 instances of protests against Covid-19 restrictions have been documented by CDM. These protests include sizable street gatherings and hashtag movements with thousands of posts that are connected to at least 14 provinces or directly administered cities.
Around 25% of cases, or 238 instances, have been noted to be repressive, according to the reporting period.
When state and nonstate incidents are combined, violence—often in the form of pushing or dragging protesters—is the most common form of repression, according to the report.
Individual and group dissent is pervasive in cyberspace despite concerted efforts by the government to lessen its visibility. The most popular forms of online dissent were hashtag movements, viral posts, performance art, online protests, joint letters, commemorations, and individual posts.
Monthly information on the frequency of online protests between May 18 and October 18, 2022.
Even outside of criminal contexts, police have unrestricted access to user communications and personal information on social media apps like WeChat, QQ, Weibo, etc. Although the infiltration strategies have greater effects across international borders, targeted individuals caught in surveillance dragnets may experience arbitrary detention and harsh prison sentences among other consequences.
China has increased espionage efforts “seeking to counter US influence and steal critical data and information,” according to an earlier intelligence report from American tech giant Microsoft.
A MEETING BETWEEN XI JINPING AND JOE BIDEN
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden had their first in-person meeting as the top leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia. They spoke for more than three hours. President Xi maintained “freedom, democracy, and human rights” as the shared goals of the United States and China in a 1600-word summary released by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He disregarded Biden’s assertion that “democracy versus authoritarianism” is a global conflict and emphasised that China has a “Chinese-style democracy.” He also said that neither the US nor China “should try to remould the other in one’s own image, or seek to change or even subvert the other’s system.”
“Contrary to what the CCP wants the world to believe, individuals throughout China are standing up to Beijing’s machine of censorship and repression to make their voices heard,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.
Xi Jinping has “zero tolerance for dissent,” according to Kenneth Roth, a former executive director of Human Rights Watch, who was interviewed by India Today.
He also finds it “remarkable” that despite the real risk of arrest and imprisonment, so many Chinese citizens dare to demonstrate in the streets in opposition to protracted Covid lockdowns and other oppressive aspects of government policy. Many Chinese citizens want a government that listens to their concerns, but Xi Jinping has imposed the tightest Communist Party dictatorship in years out of fear of letting people have any say.