- Riot police in protective gear clash with protesters
- Estimated 27-43 protests in 22 Chinese cities
- Largest wave of civil disobedience since Tiananmen Square in 1989
- COVID lockdowns, protests hit China’s economy
SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Nov 30 (Reuters) – People in Guangzhou, China’s manufacturing hub, clashed with riot police in white hazmat suits on Tuesday night, as online video showed, amid a harsh COVID-19 lockdown over the weekend.
The clashes that erupted after protests in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere came as China reported a record number of daily COVID cases and health officials, including in the southern region around Guangzhou, announced a slight easing of restrictions.
Mainland China’s largest wave of civil disobedience since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 comes as its economy stagnates after decades of rapid growth.
That era of prosperity is the basis of a social contract between the Communist Party and a people whose freedoms have been severely curtailed since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago.
In a video posted on Twitter, dozens of riot police, dressed in all-white anti-epidemic gear and with shields over their heads, marched in front of what appeared to be dismantled barriers as objects flew towards them.
Police were later seen escorting a line of handcuffed people to an unidentified location.
Another video clip showed people throwing objects at police, while a third showed tear gas canisters falling among a small group of people on a narrow street before people ran to escape the smoke.
Reuters confirmed the videos were filmed in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, the site of COVID-related unrest two weeks ago, but could not determine when the clips were taken or the exact sequence of events and what sparked the clashes.
Posts on social media said the clashes, which took place on Tuesday night, were sparked by an argument over lockdown restrictions.
The government of Guangzhou, hit hard by the latest wave of infections, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China Dissent Watch, run by the U.S. government-funded Freedom House, estimated there were at least 27 demonstrations across China from Saturday to Monday. The Australian ASPI think tank estimated there were 43 protests in 22 cities.
In Guangzhou, a sprawling port city north of Hong Kong in Guangdong province that is home to many migrant workers, officials announced late Tuesday that they would allow close contacts of COVID cases to quarantine at home rather than be forced to seek shelter.
The decision breaks the usual practice under China’s zero-COVID policy.
In Zhengzhou, the site of a massive Foxconn factory that makes Apple’s iPhones, which has been the site of workers’ unrest over COVID, officials announced an “orderly” resumption of business activity, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.
However, they also released a long list of buildings that will be in lockdown.
The announcements came hours after state health officials said on Tuesday that China would respond to “urgent concerns” raised by the public and should implement COVID rules more flexibly according to the situation in each region.
But while the easing of some measures appears to be an effort to appease the public, authorities have also begun hunting down those who took part in the recent protests.
“The police came to my front door and asked me about everything and asked me to complete the paperwork,” a Beijing resident who asked not to be named told Reuters on Wednesday.
Another resident said some friends who posted protest videos on social media were taken to the police station and asked to sign a pledge that they “would never do it again.”
It was not immediately clear how authorities identified whom they wanted to question, or how many such individuals they had contacted.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau declined to comment.
Multiple police cars and security personnel were stationed on a bridge in eastern Beijing on Wednesday, where protests took place three days earlier.
In a statement that did not mention the protests, the Communist Party’s top body for law enforcement said late Tuesday that China would resolutely crack down on “the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces.”
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also said that “illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order” cannot be tolerated.
The foreign ministry said rights and freedoms must be exercised within the law.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that protesters in China should not be harmed.
While China has largely isolated itself from the world and required major sacrifices from hundreds of millions of people to accommodate the pandemic’s three years of relentless testing and prolonged isolation, COVID is still spreading.
While the number of infections and deaths is low by global standards, analysts say reopening before boosting vaccination rates could lead to widespread illness and death and overwhelm hospitals.
Lockdowns have hammered economies, disrupted global supply chains and roiled financial markets.
Data on Wednesday showed China’s manufacturing and service sector activity in November recorded the weakest levels since Shanghai began a two-month lockdown in April.read more
Chinese stocks (.SSEC), (.CSI300) were steady as markets weighed local economic weakness against hopes that public pressure could fuel China’s eventual reopening.
Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said that China’s economic growth forecast may be lowered.
Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel
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