News and Views on Tibet

Zero-Covid policy in China could result in prolonged surveillance, experts say

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Image Representational (Photo/Reuters)

BY Choekyi Lhamo

DHARAMSHALA, Nov 18: The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a hearing with China experts on Tuesday and discussed the impacts of the draconian zero-Covid policy in China. The human rights experts’ panel led by the bipartisan congressional commission said that China is unlikely to reverse the controversial approach as the legitimacy of the third-term party leader Xi Jinping has irrevocably been tied with the Covid battle.

“The PRC’s response to the pandemic has featured entrenched patterns of authoritarian control characterized by top-down governance and harsh local implementation, secrecy around scientific data, rigid adherence to policy protocols that have jeopardized vulnerable communities, and pervasive censorship and criminalization of criticism,” the press statement on the recent hearing said, citing cases of medical disasters and continued exploitation of the health system.

Researcher Rory Truex in his views likened the current system to that of former Premier Mao Zedong’s time, “This is a style of governance that was more common, of course, in the Mao era, but has seen resurgence under a different form under Xi Jinping. In a campaign, the core leader announces a vague, ambitious policy goal, and lower level officials are left to fill in the blanks and implement policies to achieve the goal as best they can.” The Assistant Professor of International Relations at Princeton University further remarked that this phenomenon leads to lower officials falsifying data to achieve unrealistic targets.

The congressional member and long-time Tibet supporter Jim McGovern said in his opening address that the residents of China continued to revolt despite tight control. “We saw the images of the anti-Xi banner over the bridge in Beijing, and of lockdown protests in Lhasa. But there are thousands, if not millions, of stories of hardship and dissent that we do not hear, in part because of the Chinese government’s censorship,” he said.

The Freedom House’s Research Director on China, Sarah Cook urged the US officials to raise the issue of press freedom and political prisoners in both public and private meetings with China. “It helps protect them, it helps them get medical care, it gets to their family and to see them, it gets those lawyers to see them, sometimes it gets them out on medical parole, and it really can save people’s lives, even if it doesn’t get them out,” Cook told the commission, adding that dissidents and whistle-blowers have faced unprecedented consequences in China, citing journalist Zhang Zhan who is currently serving a four-year sentence for reporting about the first outbreak in Wuhan city.

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