AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
While the rest of the world has largely returned to normal, ending most COVID-19 restrictions, Communist China has continued to impose broad draconian lockdowns on its population in pursuit of a “zero COVID” policy. Despite claiming to be engaged in a battle against the virus, however, Chinese President Xi Jinping appears far more concerned with continuing to use COVID-19 as a pretext to tighten his authoritarian grip over the country and engage in blatant human rights violations. But even as the Chinese economy shows signs of faltering as a result of his policies, Xi appears more committed than ever to the ideological tenets of Marxism and ensuring above all else that the absolute power of the state is not questioned.
In many parts of China, residents have been on lockdown throughout the spring and summer, with many ordered to not leave their homes for days or weeks at a time. In the northwestern city of Yining, thousands have been quarantined for more than a month.
Earlier this year, Shanghai, a city of nearly 25 million, was locked down for more than 60 days. Though the lockdown was lifted on June 1, the city, which is one of the most important economic regions in China, has struggled to recover under lingering restrictions. Tests are still required to enter many establishments, and those who contract the virus are placed under strict quarantine orders.
Things are even worse in other parts of the country, where lockdown orders have led to food shortages and uncommon public outcry against government policies. One resident from the Western province of Xinjiang told BBC News that “it’s been 15 days, we are out of flour, rice, eggs. From days ago, we run out of milk for kids.” Another resident told the New York Times that the government food rations contained only bread and rice, no fruits, vegetables, or meat.
Yet even in the face of these strict policies, China has largely failed to stop the spread of the virus. Though the country has only officially reported 25,315 COVID-19 deaths since the onset of the pandemic, the actual number is likely exponentially higher.
Nonetheless, Chinese health officials have continued to double down on restrictions. Last month, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, the Chinese equivalent of Dr. Anthony Fauci, recommended more testing and new regulations. Health workers now conduct millions of tests each week on not only people, but also shopping items, travel bags, fish, and even shrimp.
Predictably, China’s economic outlook has taken a hit as a result of these policies. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that some experts now believe China won’t overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy by the end of the decade after all. According to CNBC, a full 12% of China’s economy is now affected by COVID controls – up from 5.3% at the beginning of the month. Some pundits have even asked if Xi Jinping has stopped caring about China’s economy altogether.
For Xi Jinping, however, the fight against COVID-19 appears to have merged with his broader Marxist ideological agenda. “Zero COVID” has become not so much about eliminating the virus, but about eliminating dissent against the government narrative.
As much was evidenced in a report from a Chinese state media outlet earlier this year on a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. “The meeting stressed the importance of unswervingly adhering to the dynamic zero-COVID policy and resolutely fighting any attempts to distort, question or dismiss China’s anti-COVID policy,” the report reads. “Party committees, governments, and the whole society must guard against a lack of vigilance, fully mobilize the people, and take fast action to implement various COVID-19 control measures.” For Xi and top Communist Party officials, the primary concern has become ensuring that the population complies with the COVID protocols, no matter how extreme or how unlikely they are to be effective.
The Chinese government even has its own dedicated army of COVID enforcers, the so-called “white guards” that have become ubiquitous with Xi’s Zero COVID policy. This new type of police force can seal the entrance door of a home or an apartment, and even decide whether a COVID-diagnosed individual should stay home or be jailed in a camp. Clashes between white guards and citizens have become common, as tensions run high in many communities forced into lockdown.
This obsession with obedience to the state – even when obedience means suffering to no apparent end – is a feature of all Marxist regimes and reveals the brutal reality of Communist rule. For Xi, economic prosperity is not worth it if it comes at the cost of ideological obedience. He would rather let his economy collapse than have the Communist Party’s rigid ideological control challenged, or even admit that the Party was wrong. Zero COVID has been tried and failed in dozens of countries around the world. But because Xi committed China to pursuing the policy, extensive testing and lockdowns became a measure of loyalty to the state, and any dissent or questioning of such was quickly snuffed out.
For observers in the West, this course of action likely seems self-defeating, perhaps even suicidal. But it should not be so surprising in light of the broader picture of Chinese Communist Party goals that Xi Jinping described in a 2019 essay that was published in the Party’s ideological journal, Qiushi. In that piece, released just months ahead of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Xi reiterates his absolute devotion to a Marxist-Leninist worldview, including the belief that capitalism is destined to perish. Though Xi accepts that China must exploit the benefits of capitalism, it is always with the end goal of working within the West’s economic system to spread Chinese influence and power around the globe. The Chinese people, Xi maintains, must have a “great strategic determination” to remain committed to the end goal of a socialist world revolution.
The pandemic seems to have reinforced this belief, and should reveal to the West how committed China is to the Marxist-Leninist ideal. When challenged by their people and the reality of the virus to change course on lockdown policies, Xi and his ministers instead doubled down, even at the expense of the country’s economic growth.
Much like the authoritarian left elsewhere throughout the world, Xi views COVID-19 as a convenient tool to re-assert the power of the state over the lives of ordinary people. While voters in democratic nations have by and large demanded that those in power accept the reality of living with the virus and move on, no such need to appease voters exists for Xi. As the Chinese people suffer, it is yet another stark warning about the inherent dangers of Marxist-Leninist ideology which must always be guarded against, lest it infect and destroy even the healthiest of countries.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.
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