In a significant escalation of political unrest, protests against China’s strict zero-COVID policy spread to several cities and university campuses across the country, with demonstrators in Shanghai calling for President Xi Jinping to step down.
After erupting in the Xinjiang region, social media footage indicates that demonstrations have now broken out in Nanjing, Urumqi, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Beijing, where street protesters tore down a physical COVID barrier.
The Chinese Communist Party has pursued a zero-COVID policy, cracking down on any virus transmission by implementing stringent lockdown measures that confine millions of people to their homes for months on end. But case numbers have begun to surge recently.
In Shanghai, police pepper-sprayed around 300 protestors on Saturday night, the Associated Press reported. The demonstrators demanded that President Xi Jinping resign and called for the end of his Communist Party’s rule. According to AFP, students also protested at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where Xi himself studied.
In an unprecedented wave of public dissent, protesters have jostled with lab-coat-wearing officials and held up blank pieces of paper in defiance of the authoritarian regime.
The protests began in the wake of a fire on Thursday night that killed 10 people in an apartment in Urumqi, the Xinjiang regional capital, and that some protesters allege was worsened by the strict enforcement of the lockdown policy. Beijing stands accused of human rights violations against Uyghurs, a Muslim minority, in Xinjiang, a region in the far west of the country.
European Council President Charles Michel is traveling to China to meet Xi on December 1, as the EU reassesses its economic dependence on China against the backdrop of Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine, which China has not publicly condemned.