Trouble brewing in China as protests sweep country

China’s government is facing a rare eruption of nationwide protests as frustration mounts over the country’s strict COVID restrictions.

What happened: Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators calling for an end to the government’s zero-COVID policies and clashing with police in cities across China.

  • The latest protests were sparked by the death of at least 10 people in an apartment fire in Urumqi.
  • Some Chinese social media users have speculated that tight COVID lockdowns hindered efforts to fight the blaze, per the BBC.

Zoom out: COVID is surging in China, and infections reached a record high last week, prompting more cities, including Beijing and Wuhan, to tighten restrictions.

  • Compared to the rest of the world, China’s COVID caseload is still relatively low, but officials worry that loosening zero-COVID rules would overwhelm the healthcare system.
  • Exacerbating the problem is the relative ineffectiveness of Chinese-made vaccines compared to the mRNA shots deployed in most Western countries, and the limited uptake of vaccines among the country’s elderly population (only 40% of those over 80 have had three shots).

Why it matters: The demonstrations pose a serious challenge for President Xi Jinping, who has staked much of his reputation on controlling the virus.

  • Chinese authorities now face a dilemma: Either ease up on zero-COVID and risk collapsing the healthcare system or stay the course with lockdowns and try to ride out growing social unrest.

Meanwhile: Western countries continue distancing themselves from China, with the US banning the sale of all Huawei and ZTE electronics and Canada announcing that it would likely expand limits on foreign investment (but let’s be real, that mostly means China) in key sectors of the economy.