- - Monday, May 9, 2022

Chinese President Xi Jinping is facing the most significant challenge of his decade-long rule in the form of a coronavirus that will not heed his wishes, no matter how adamantly he cracks down.

Mr. Xi is not only refusing to bend a “zero COVID” policy that has turned tens of millions of Chinese citizens into virtual prisoners in their own homes, but he is vowing to “resolutely fight” anyone who questions it.

Just months before he expects to cement another five-year term, already having been enshrined by the Communist Party into the pantheon of China’s leaders alongside Mao Zedong, Mr. Xi continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic with the same kind of zeal that marked the ruinous campaigns of past generations.

In this episode of History As It Happens, the Mercatus Center’s Weifeng Zhong, who analyzes Chinese state propaganda to forecast policy changes, said Mr. Xi may be a victim of his own ambition to consolidate all power to himself.

“In China, there used to be what was called collective leadership inside the party. Major decisions, including central planning and market reforms, were oftentimes voted on by the Politburo members. Even though it was only seven to nine men, it was a decision-making process that was collective,” Mr. Zhong said.

“But not under President Xi. The fact that he came out to say that [the leadership] must curb all dissent or opposition to the policy means that there are people disagreeing, and there are people inside the party opposing the policy.”

Shanghai – population 26 million – remains locked down. Government personnel are forcibly hauling people who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine centers. The rigid policy is damaging China’s, and therefore the global, economy. Beijing could face a similar lockdown.

In 1959, Mao was forced to resign as state chairman after the appalling disaster of the Great Leap Forward. Tens of millions of people had starved, and the nation’s economy was left in ruins.

Mr. Zhong said Mr. Xi’s grip on power is not yet threatened, and anyone who speaks out against “zero COVID” puts themself in jeopardy.

“When you have party leadership meetings, some key party members will get the chance to speak. Some may choose to criticize the Chinese president. The people speaking out might be purged. That has happened many, many times over in Chinese history.”

To listen to the full conversation with Weifeng Zhong, download this episode of History As It Happens.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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