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A protester in Tiananmen Square says China is easing its ‘zero COVID’ policy, a ‘rare display of weakness’ from Xi Jinping

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Chinese President Xi Jinping is showing a “rare display of weakness” as Beijing looks to roll back some of its more extreme coronavirus policies, according to a former Tiananmen Square protest leader.

“It’s hard to predict the outcome of the protests now,” Zhu Fengsu, a human rights activist and former student leader during the Tiananmen Square protests, told Newsweek. “But we are already seeing some Loosening the “zero-covid” policywhich is a rare display of Xi Jinping’s weakness.”

The protests spread to a number of cities across China as residents opposed the country’s strict “Zero COVID” policy, under which local governments lock down cities and force mass testing after only a few cases of COVID-19 are detected.

Politics Reducing the number of deaths to fewer than 6,000 of its 1.4 billion residents, but residents are tired of the severe restrictions the rules place on their lives three years after the virus first spread.

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Officials in Xinjiang over the weekend I started easing restrictions In areas with low community spread, declaring that they have essentially achieved a “communal ‘zero COVID’.” Experts believe Beijing changed course in order to help quell the protests.

Former Tiananmen Student Leader Fengsu Zhu testifies during a hearing before the Congressional Executive Committee on China on June 4, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The committee held a hearing on “Tiananmen in 30: A Study of the Evolution of Repression in China.”
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

However, the protests continued to spread across social media in a rare gag from China’s censorship network, with videos appearing on Twitter and TikTok. Demonstrations appear in cities across the country.

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Some of the protests included anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chants, and Zhou applauded them as part of “going through the baptism of political activism”.

Chinese student leaders held a candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington on June 3 to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.  Students who led the protests in Tiananmen later fled China. Pictured from left to right: Liu Gang, Zhou Fengsu, Chen Tong, and Weer Kaishi.

Chinese student leaders held a candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington on June 3 to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Students who led the protests in Tiananmen later fled China. Pictured from left to right: Liu Gang, Zhou Fengsu, Chen Tong, and Weer Kaishi.
(Richard Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

“As a survivor of the Tiananmen massacre, I break down in tears while watching protesters chant ‘End the Chinese Communist Party’ in Shanghai, the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party,” Zhou said.

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“Xi Jinping still has complete control within the CCP. But his tight control also means that the regime cannot handle surprises because his followers are not willing to take initiatives without Xi’s explicit instructions,” Zhou said. “Plus, the ‘zero COVID’ system is already exhausted. But at this point, it’s still entrenched.”

A person holds a banner during a protest in solidarity against COVID-19 restrictions in mainland China, during the memorial service for the Urumqi fire victims outside the Chinese Consulate in Toronto on November 29, 2022.

A person holds a banner during a protest in solidarity against COVID-19 restrictions in mainland China, during the memorial service for the Urumqi fire victims outside the Chinese Consulate in Toronto on November 29, 2022.
(Reuters / Chris Helgren)

Experts speculated that Beijing’s policies are not sustainableBut the government can’t completely undo its policies until more of the population is vaccinated, which means “no-COVID” could last for up to another year.

Beijing has seen some local neighborhoods allow residents with mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to isolate at home instead of reporting to large quarantine facilities.

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China’s foreign ministry defended its response to the virus, saying that “the facts prove that China’s epidemic response measures are scientifically based, correct and effective,” adding that the United States has a much higher death toll and is not in a position to point fingers.

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Xi’s government has promised to limit disruption to its “zero COVID” strategy by shortening quarantines and making other changes. Still, it says it will abide by the restrictions that have repeatedly closed schools and businesses and suspended access to neighborhoods.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.