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Asia and Pacific

Influence of China's Zero COVID Health Policy

Photo by POOL New

On November 24th 2022 in Urumqi, China, there was a fire that broke out in a residential building that resulted in a total of 10 deaths, many of whom were children. The fire took place in an area that was sanctioned off in quarantine due to the Zero COVID health policy that Xi Jinping has established over China, with regulations and restrictions placed on the building. The firemen that were called onto the site were unable to get into the building to save them due to the many lackdown measures that were in place in the building, which ultimately resulted in many avoidable deaths. This incident resulted in an uprising by the Chinese citizens, with many protests and candlelight vigils held all around China.

The protests and reactions of the Chinese people were recorded and numerous enough that they leaked through the censors the government has in place. This allowed the rest of the world to see what was happening in China and how the Chinese citizens felt about it. The protests that have taken hold in China specifically protesting the Zero COVID policy and at times, Xi Jinping himself. Chinese citizens, primarily the Chinese youth, use the blank paper protest in order to demonstrate their opinions, as they are unable to express their specific issues safely, due to censorship and government security measures. The blank paper protest symbolizes a lack of freedom of speech and is used to protest the government and other related issues. The Chinese people took the deaths of their fellow citizens personally, they are demanding movement toward ways to prevent such unnecessary deaths from happening again.

People all across China have made their opinions clear through local protests and gatherings, a majority of these being university students and other young people feeling the toll that the prolonged Zero COVID policy has taken on the daily lives of the average citizen. In a Varsity interview of some of the students on site of protests in both Hong Kong areas and Guang Dong areas, the students reveal the fear and risk that comes with speaking out, reflecting on some of the previous Hong Kong protests that had brought much chaos to their lives. While there are mixed opinions of the effectiveness that these protests have had on the policies that govern so much of their daily lives, the students reflect that changes have been made and that schools have lifted some of the restrictions that had been enforced.

Such widespread rebellion against government policy in China has rarely been seen, and yet the Chinese people have spoken, and they are calling for change.

Such topics were expected to be addressed in Xi Jinping’s New Years Address, however the country leader did not acknowledge the protests directly, only noting that the Zero COVID policy showed Chinese resilience against the tough challenges that they faced as strong people, with a very positive and optimistic look into the future. Xi also discussed some of the many goals that had been laid out earlier in the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, praising the progress being made in several areas of interest, including security and trade. Although China has been experiencing an economic decline, Xi praises the fact that China remained the number two economy in the world, and shows his excitement and optimism that he has regarding the Chinese economy and the future for the Chinese people.

Despite this optimism, portions of the Chinese public who are experiencing a rise in unemployment rates may not be so optimistic, causing more unrest and adding to the property market slump that began in 2022. Although not entirely to blame for the slowing of the economy, the Zero COVID policy and the mass lockdowns that have been implemented have taken their toll. Additionally, despite the relaxing of some of the restrictions and regulations in early December, the rapid change created chaos in some areas like Guangzhou, the “commercial hub of southern China”. These businesses that are so vital to China are spending less, purchasing with more caution and hesitation due to less financial security. Additionally, these businesses have had to cut spending in the employment area, creating a domino effect of a downturning economy with less cash flow.

The struggles that each country has gone through with their own different plans and processes to combat COVID19 and the time that has passed provides the opportunity to compare the plans after effects. China first initiated many lockdowns and procedures for the country, regulating and monitoring the shots, outbreaks and testing of the virus in order to control it. This strategy of the Zero COVID policy was effective and thorough at the time, setting a bright example for the world of control and order. However, this strategy proved to have negative effects in the long term, the strict policies hurting business and trade and greatly affecting the middle class citizens - the main stimuli of the economy, and the source of the protests against these limiting restrictions.

These observations do not in any way negate the effectiveness that the Zero COVID policy had in China, however, coupled with the lasting effects that the 1 and 2 child policy that was only lifted in 2021 had on the economy, China’s struggle increased and became less manageable.

The United States, alternatively, created lockdowns that lasted a much shorter time and had less strict mandates on the people, additionally letting the individual states have more control of the policies that were kept and maintained. Restrictions such as requirements to wear a mask, cancleing public events, or school closings were implemented almost immediately in Febuary of 2020, however, the timeline for these restrictions were minimal compared to the Chiense Zero COVID policy, as it was just relaxed in December of 2022. This resulted in only a slight decline of breakouts throughout the country and an economic downturn at first, and while these results were unfortunate in the beginning, the United States has lifted almost all restrictions and the economy has nearly fully recovered. Therefore it can be said that the long term plans were beneficial and profitable.

Economists around the world are considering the future for China and wondering if they will be able to maintain their high rank as 2nd largest economy in the world, or if this will perhaps be an opportunity for growth in other countries, including the United States.