“As we’ve said, we think it’s going to be very difficult for the People’s Republic of China to be able to contain this virus through their zero Covid strategy,” the spokesperson said in the statement, adding that measures such as boosting vaccination rates were more useful. “We’ve long said everyone has the right to peacefully protest, here in the United States and around the world. This includes in the PRC.”
John Kirby, NSC communications strategy, said that Biden had been briefed by him on events in China during the White House press briefing. Kirby acknowledged that Biden has warned that the world’s democracies face challenges from autocratic movements, but he declined to go beyond the NSC comment that the U.S. supports the right to peaceful protest.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) called the administration’s stance on the protests “cowardly.” The two lawmakers accused Biden of failing to “stand up to the CCP and stand in solidarity with the Chinese people,” in a statement issued Monday.
The protester population in Beijing and Shanghai had declined over the past 24 hours, as Washington Mid-Day Monday showed. However, there are reports that demonstrations are spreading. the city of Hangzhou on Monday indicated that authorities have yet to quell the anger — including calls for an end to Xi’s leadership — that has brought people into the streets.
Biden’s aides know that protest movements are unpredictable. Although protests in China are not uncommon, they are often very limited in scope and geographical location. The Chinese Communist Party is quick to thwart any serious threat to its authority and tends to act quickly.
According to a U.S. official, the Biden administration must consider a variety of factors when deciding how to respond. A strident U.S. statement, for instance, could lead the Chinese government to turn the focus on the United States and allege “foreign interference” rather than addressing the frustrations of the protesters.
Despite the bitterness, the United States is determined to maintain stability and cooperation with China. China is a significant global power and an economic partner. The United States needs China’s help on everything from fighting climate change to pandemic readiness.
The Biden team’s response to the China protests will likely contrast starkly with its quick and vocal support at high levels for protests in IranThe talks have been ongoing since mid September. Iran is a weak regional power, and its Islamist regime has been an open enemy of America for over 40 years. There is very little trade or cooperation between the two countries.
Officials across the U.S. government are nonetheless watching the developments in China closely — including how the government treats journalists covering the protests — and they are engaged in regular interagency discussions about how to respond, the U.S. official said.
Biden administration health officers shared with the NSC, as of Monday, their assessment of the Covid-19 situation. The conversation also included a discussion about the potential spread of the virus throughout the country. According to someone with direct knowledge, rising Covid infection rates in China suggests that the virus has outpaced current lockdown strategies and that Beijing may need even more restrictive restrictions in the next days.
A spokesperson from the NSC didn’t immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment regarding the health-related discussions.
The Thanksgiving holidays caused some confusion in the initial messaging about the protests, which was led by the NSC. “It’s not for the United States to comment on the protests. It’s for the protesters,” added the official.
Chinese officials made some minor changes to their zero Covid strategy as a response to the protests. Beijing officials, for instance, said they won’t set up gates to block access to housing developments where infections were found. But, according to media reportsThe changes are not being backed by the Communist leadership. It is important to note that the strategy seeks to isolate all infected persons in order to prevent community outbreaks from spreading and overwhelming the Chinese medical system.
Xi has accumulated immense power in China and has repressed any dissent. Last month, he was recognized as the leader of the Communist Party at a gathering that is held every five years. It was remarkable that any Chinese protesters had called for his resignation. During that party gathering Xi emphasized his continued support for a zero-Covid policy.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing issued a statement amid protests a Covid-focused statementIt assured Chinese citizens that safety was their top priority. It encouraged them to “keep a 14-day supply of medications, bottled water, and food for yourself and any members of your household.”
Over the past weeks, U.S. officials and European officials discussed how and when to share vaccines and other information with Beijing. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced that he will allow German expatriates living in China to have access to the mRNA BioNTech shots. Scholz stated that he would support European Union regulation of Chinese vaccines. China has not approved any of the mRNA vaccines that can be used in China and instead relies on its own shot to control infection rates.
Some U.S. lawmakers boldly made bolder statements as news spread of the protests online. Republicans appeared most vocal, though there’s widespread bipartisan antipathy toward Beijing in Congress.
“The people of China are pushing back against the authoritarian regime of Xi, and the #CCP. Americans everywhere are standing with you in solidarity… freedom for China!” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted.
“The CCP is an evil regime,” tweeted Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) “The ongoing protests in Communist China show that the Chinese people are pleading for change.”
The protests have taken place in major urban centers including Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu and Xi’an.
Although large numbers of Chinese security personnel have been deployed to protest sites, they have responded to the protests with relative restraint. The police have asked protesters to disperse, and Shanghai will be the same. began detaining protesterswho remained at key intersections within the city. The police have also erected high barriersOn select streets in Shanghai, to prevent protesters returning.
Chinese security forces clearly opposed foreign media coverage of demonstrations. Shanghai police beat, handcuffed and briefly detainedOn Sunday, Ed Lawrence, a BBC journalist, filmed protesters. Police later said that they did so “for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd.” The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement on Monday that it was “extremely disturbed” by police targeting of foreign media at the protests.
A representative for the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Beijing to respect the right of peaceful protest. “No one should be arbitrarily detained for peacefully expressing their opinions,” OHCHR spokesperson Jeremy Laurence told reporters on Monday.
The Chinese government will not comment directly on protests. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Monday denied knowledgeProtesters demanded that Xi be removed.
Zhao blamed “forces with ulterior motives” for linking the deadly Xinjiang fire with public anger about zero-Covid protocols. The Chinese Foreign Ministry excised those questions and responsesFrom its daily news briefing transcript.
Kelly Hooper, Erin Banco, and Kelly Hooper contributed their expertise to this report.
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