China’s Party Congress makes no changes on zero-Covid policy

China's President Xi Jinping

China's President Xi Jinping speaks during the introduction of members of the Chinese Communist Party's new Politburo Standing Committee, the nation's top decision-making body, to the media in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022.

Photo credit: Noel Celis | AFP

The 20th National Party Congress of the Communist Party of China is making no changes to the zero-Covid policy, suggesting most of the policies imposed by President Xi Jinping will continue.

President Xi was endorsed for an unprecedented third time as the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, reinforcing his authority on the world’s largest country by population.

Chinese media have been republishing his famous quote this week, where he says: “I will fully commit to the people and will never fail them.”

But his ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ policy has been criticised by some rights watchdogs for railroading people while denying them their rights.

Human Rights Watch, for example, says Xi’s ten-year leadership has seen people arrested, detained, surveilled or forced into exile.

“It imposes particularly heavy-handed control in Xinjiang and Tibet,” Human Rights Watch said ahead of the Congress which ends Sunday.

After critics lost the chance to change the trajectory of the Communist Party in endorsing Xi, it means controversial controls including on zero-Covid will continue.

Xi was re-elected general secretary of the Communist Party as Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, as China is formally is known, remains the last Chairman of the Party.

The Communist Party has endorsed the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s brainchild policy to connect the world to Beijing.

But it also happens on the backdrop of perilous periods including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the containment measures of Covid-19.

China still demands a stringent testing regimen for foreigners visiting the country, and requires social distancing on aircraft for passengers, which has raised the cost of airfare to Beijing by more than four times.

The harsh Covid-19 containment restrictions China has imposed on regions with cases, such as in Tibet have seen protests against the government.

In Lhasa, the capital of the autonomous Tibet region, the Voice of America (VoA) reported that residents who have tested positive were still being quarantined in empty stadiums, schools, warehouses and unfinished buildings.

China’s early containment measures initially earned it reputation, helping contain infection rates in the original sites of infections for Covid-19, which has since spread around the world.

But Beijing has continued with tighter controls, in spite of mounting a large vaccination campaign, with restrictive lockdowns and required testing, tracking and quarantining.

Tibet has been continually listed by rights groups alongside Xinjiang, as regions of China where authorities have committed atrocities on minorities. Beijing denies the charge.

The Human Rights Watch earlier claimed DNA collection was being implemented on Tibetans, in and outside Tibetan Autonomous Region, from children, without parental consent.

Beijing was also accused of forcing Tibetans to abandon their language and their religion, Tibetan Buddhism.

In Xinjiang, China has fought allegations it was forcing Uighurs to abandon Islam. Instead, Beijing says it was re-orienting the communities against extremism.

Xi had visited Tibet last year, becoming the first Chinese president in three decades to do so.

As vice-President, he had also toured Tibet to mark 60 years of the Communist party rule in China. At the time, he pledged to crash anyone who would destabilise the region.

China scrapped two-term limits under XI’s rule, meaning he could continue for several more terms.

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