The Great Chinese U-Turn and what it might mean for the future?

Up until a few weeks ago the world has been baffled by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPP) behaviour in general as well as its doubling down on its zero-Covid policy. This has now all now been ripped apart after protests in the country forced an extremely surprising and embarrassing Chinese U-turn.

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The Great Chinese U-Turn – a rock and hard place

For the uninitiated the “zero covid” policy was just that, keep the virus out of the country until iy magically disappeared and for a while at least it seemed to be working.

China was the first country to roll out a vaccine and in 2021 when much of the world was in lockdown China was basically getting back to normal, but all of this was to be thrown on its head with the advent of the South African variant, or as it more commonly known Omicron. 

This variant, which is much easier to spread meant that most countries simply adopted a herd immunity approach (alongside mixed vaccinations), while China doubled down on lockdowns, enforced testing and mass control of its people.

The Chinese Communist Party Conference 

While the economy has suffered and there have of course been rumblings of discontent, much of it was ignored as the country geared up for its party conference.

To call what transpired as bizarre would be a gross understatement, with former leader Hu Jintao being forcibly removed from the meeting in scenes reminiscent of a Stalin era purge, but also Xi Jingping receiving his unprecedented 3rd term in office, a point far from popular among the Chinese masses.

The other policy that surprised and disappointed in equal measure was the doubling down of the zero-covid policy, with many hoping that the event would be used to announce a reopening of the country – this was not to be the case.

The Straw that broke the canes back

And it was this zero-covid policy that was to lead to the biggest protests the communist state has seen since the incidents of 1989. The specific straws that broke the camels back came from multiple areas, such as the deaths in Xinjiang and the lockdown in Guangzhou, but in essence these were just manifestations of bigger concerns.

The Chinese economy is in dire-straits, with the affect on manufacturing supply lines leading to many companies diversifying their business away from China.

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The main elephant in the room for most people though was the increasingly authoritarian nature of the tests and lockdowns, while the vast majority of the rest of the world has largely gotten back to normal. 

Ironically the Qatar World Cup was another factor in the revolt. Seeing 80,000 people not wearing masks next to each other at a huge sporting event makes it slightly harder to tell people that you are the best country in the world and that Covid will kill you.

And it was not just big level protests, but also a nationwide stand-up to the party of almost unprecedented levels. China as is known censors its internet, but more importantly people also self-censor. This though all, but disappeared as netizens posted their anger in the quite literal tens of millions.

To sum up the overall attitude one quote that has done the rounds was a netizen who stated “When Trump said we only have more cases because we test more, we thought he was stupid, in fact we are the stupid ones”.

Essentially the government were left with two options, neither of them good. Either initiate the Chinese U-turn and end up with egg on their faces, or to respond with deadly force. The later option not only would have made 1989 look like a tea party, but may well have led to a genuine revolution within the country.

The Chinese U-turn though while wanted by most has deeply affected the people of China’s view of their ruling party and indeed the Xi Jinping era. Quite whether the party and indeed its leader can recover from this is yet to be seen, but the CCP will drastically need to work on improving the economy if it is to have any chance of survival. 

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What next after the Chinese U-turn

So far things have been moving slowly, but masks are no longer mandatory and enforced tests are now seemingly a thing of the past. As to when China will either open again, or indeed let its citizens leave is yet to be seen, but it is likely to happen sooner rather than later, or the country again risks people protesting.

Realistically though and while economists are extremely happy about a potential Chinese return to the big stage, the medical community is a bit more wary. In other countries we have built up some herd immunity and not only has China not done this, but has only given booster shots to 60% of the most vulnerable people and only with locally vaccines, rather than the mix employed in other nations.

The hospitals of the country are likely to be pushed to capacity, as well as the most vulnerable suffering financially, Despite officially being communist China charges for medical care and it is not cheap for your average workers and peasants – supposedly the very people the party represents.

Of course the best case scenario is that the Omicron variant passes with relative ease and the country not only reaches herd immunity, but also successfully rejoins the global community.

There are though problems with the Chinese U-turn, which simply cannot be undone. No longer will people juts follow the party line blindly, but more worrying for the regime is that protesting has been proved to work in changing government policy. And this all happened without any bloodshed.

Essentially you cannot put the genie back in the bottle, and China is unlikely to be the same place when it does finally reopen.