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Saturday, October 1, 2022

China’s ‘Zero Covid’ disaster demonstrates that autocracy is harmful to everyone

China has a “zero sparrow” policy in place long before it implemented the “zero Covid” programme.

It was in the spring of 1958 that Mao Zedong called for the mobilisation of the whole Chinese population in order to kill sparrows, which were considered pests that ruined crops. People all around China banged pots and pans, lighted firecrackers, and waved flags in an attempt to keep the birds from landing, causing them to plummet to the ground and die of fatigue. According to one estimate, approximately two billion sparrows were killed throughout the country in a few of months.

After sparrows were almost extinct, pest infestations caused agricultural damage and contributed to the Great Famine, which caused tens of millions of Chinese to starve to death over the course of three years in the following years.

It is feared in China right now that the “zero Covid” policy has devolved into another Mao-style political campaign centred on the whim of a single individual — the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping — and that it would have unintended consequences for all citizens.

Similarly to how Mao and his lieutenants ignored scientific and technological opposition to their anti-sparrow policy, the Chinese government has ignored experts’ recommendations that the country abandon its costly anti-coronavirus strategy and learn to coexist with the virus, particularly a milder, if more infectious, variant.

Instead, Beijing insists on sticking to the same game plan as it did in 2020, which includes widespread testing, quarantine, and lockdowns. The method has placed hundreds of millions of lives on hold, sent tens of thousands to temporary quarantine camps, and denied medical care to a large number of non-Covid patients, among other consequences.

Mr. Xi is determined to adhere to the approach since he is running for a third term in office at a crucial Communist Party meeting later this year. The success of China in suppressing the virus is being used to demonstrate that their top-down government style is better than that of liberal democracies, according to him.

According to estimates by experts at the investment firm Nomura, as the Omicron variation spreads, around 373 million people in 45 Chinese cities were under either complete or partial lockdowns as of Monday. In their paper, they noted that these cities account for 26 percent of China’s population and 40 percent of its economic production, and they cautioned that the danger of recession was increasing as local governments sought to increase the effectiveness of virus-containment efforts.

In response, Beijing is asking local governments to find a balance between pandemic containment and economic development. Everyone in the bureaucratic system, on the other hand, is well aware of where the priority is.

An official disciplinary or reprimanding process was recently conducted in the city of Jixi in China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang against 18 officials, including township leaders, law enforcement chiefs, hospital and funeral home directors, who were found to have neglected their duties and responsibilities in pandemic prevention and response. In the statement, it was said that certain cadres “weren’t stressed up enough.”

Eight midlevel officials in Shanghai, China’s biggest and wealthiest city, were ousted or suspended from their jobs after the city’s poorly conducted lockdown created confusion, tragedies, and serious food shortages as a result of the poor execution of the lockdown.

Following the city’s lockdown of its 25 million citizens and the suspension of most delivery services in early April, many individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, had difficulties in obtaining food supplies. Certain people set alarms for the various replenishment hours of grocery delivery apps, which may begin as early as 6 a.m. in some cases.

According to a few Shanghai residents, the question of whether sprouting potatoes were safe to consume has been a big subject in WeChat groups during the last few days. Neighbors used a barter system to swap goods, such as a cabbage for a bottle of soy sauce, between them. Coca-Cola is a valuable commodity.

Because her family has been without food for over two weeks, Dai Xin, a restaurant owner, is running out on supplies to feed her four children and herself. She now cuts ginger paper thin, pickles veggies to keep them from spoiling, and only eats two meals a day rather than three before.

It is also affecting the wealthy, who are experiencing food shortages. Last week, the CEO of a large store informed me that she had received a large number of inquiries from top executives in Shanghai. However, the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, said that she had nothing she could do under lockdown regulations.

This is not a surprise development. As a result of their restricted access to information and lack of instruments to hold the government responsible, the great majority of Chinese people typically accept whatever the government does.

In the last two years, they have followed Beijing’s lead and targeted anyone who are critical of the Chinese government’s pandemic policy. They banded together in support of Beijing, which was expanding the application of the social repression mechanism in Xinjiang to the rest of the nation in the guise of pandemic prevention. Now that the effects of their actions have been felt by many of them, there are no longer any citizen journalists or huge volunteer organisations to assist them, in contrast to Wuhan, where there were.

During times when repressions didn’t affect them, “the majority of Chinese choose to disregard them,” said Lawrence Li, a business consultant based in Shanghai.

He, like many others, believes that what is taking on in Shanghai is a reiteration of the anti-sparrow campaign. In his words, “history repeats itself over and over again.”

David Faber
I am a Business Journalist of The National Era
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