DCB #102: “Zero COVID Tolerance” or “Coexist with the Virus”? This is a False Dilemma

To support us with a donation? Click here!Dialogue China BriefingWhat China Is ReadingIssue 102 – February 15, 2022In This IssueThe articles shared here do not necessarily reflect the views of China Newsletter or Dialogue China. All articles sourced from WeChat public accounts unless otherwise noted.I. Dialogue China Opinions1. “Zero COVID Tolerance” or “Coexist with the Virus”? This is a False DilemmaII. Policy2. Theoretical Connotation and Policy Agenda of Common Prosperity3. AIDS in China: Hidden Infections Remain UndetectedIII. Politics4. Inter-Ethnic Political Integration Strategies of the Communist Party of ChinaIV. Finance and Business5. What Did the Chinese Working Class Look Like?6. New Oriental “Breaks its Arms to Survive”: Laying Off 40,000 Employees, Cutting Executive Salaries, and Refunding Tens of Billions of DollarsDialogue China Opinions1. “Zero COVID Tolerance” or “Coexist with the Virus”? This is a False DilemmaDialogue China Commentator – Dialogue China – February 15, 2022From the lockdown of Xi’an at the end of last year, to the resurgence of the pandemic in Tianjin, Henan, Guangdong and many other cities nationwide at the beginning of this year, to the virus making a comeback in Beijing during the Winter Olympics, how many more Wuhan moments will China experience? Considering that the virus variants that are currently ravaging China are mainly the less transmissible but more virulent Delta – rather than the more transmissible but less virulent Omicron, which is prevalent in Europe and the United States – China’s stringent and dynamic zero COVID policy will continue for the foreseeable future. So is “zero COVID tolerance” really that important to Xi Jinping? It may be worthwhile to explore this topic.
Just after New Year’s Day 2022, Washington and Beijing stopped 44 scheduled flights between each other’s countries. The reason for this is that the Chinese side found passengers on flights from the United States testing positive for COVID. The United States side was puzzled by this. Why did the passengers test positive when they arrived in China when they all tested negative before boarding the plane? While the two sides were arguing, there was also a similar problem with the Winter Olympic Games’ overly stringent nucleic acid testing of athletes from various countries, as many athletes who tested negative before boarding flights to Beijing tested positive in China. The truth finally came out: the CT value* of the nucleic acid test in China is surprisingly higher than that of other countries. While it is generally between 30 and 35 in Western countries, it is 40 in China. In another controversial incident, the United States Embassy in China authorized a diplomatic evacuation. Unable to tolerate the disruption to their lives and work caused by Beijing’s extremely harsh zero COVID policy, the embassy staff requested diplomatic assistance from the United States Department of State. In the end, China may face the embarrassment of another shutdown of the United States Embassy in China.
* CT stands for “Cycle Threshold” and indicates how many times a machine needs to try to copy a particular virus’s genetic material before being able to detect that material on a particular test called a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. The CT value can be looked at as an indirect indicator of the amount of viral genetic material detected from a particular specimen on a particular test at a particular time. In general, a lower CT value indicates a higher viral load in that specimen, and a higher CT value indicates a lower viral load.
Back in China, the pandemic and its related disasters are growing in intensity in society. From the lockdown of Xi’an late last year to the current resurgence of infection in many parts of the country, it is expected that the pandemic will continue to worsen in Beijing during the Winter Olympics. In fact, before the resurgence of the pandemic, in terms of results measured by both time and space China was one of the most successful countries in dealing with the outbreak. However, due to Xi Jinping’s superstitious and headstrong thinking on zero tolerance, China is now one of the countries most troubled by the pandemic. But almost all of those who are currently on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic and are adamant about the zero tolerance policy are Xi Jinping’s cronies and loyalists, including Cai Qi in Beijing, Li Hongzhong in Tianjin, Lou Yangsheng in Henan, Li Qiang in Shanghai, Li Xi in Guangdong among others. Any mistakes in the fight against the pandemic – or any other political leverage in these areas – is coveted by Xi Jinping’s political opponents. For example, one of Xi Jinping’s close associates Xu Liyi – a member of the Standing Committee of the Henan Provincial Communist Party Committee and the Communist Party Secretary of Zhengzhou – was recently held accountable and removed from his post by the State Council under Li Keqiang’s administration for the “7-20” [July 20, 2021] rainstorm disaster last year.
In this way – in the face of both domestic and international diplomatic pressure – it does not matter whether “zero tolerance’ or “living with the virus” is better or worse. Of paramount importance is how to maintain the political leadership and absolute power of Xi Jinping and his cronies. It all boils down to one factor: Xi Jinping’s mission to achieve lifelong rule at the 20th Communist Party National Congress later this year. The “zero COVID tolerance” policy provides a once-in-a-lifetime excuse and means for Xi Jinping’s ascension.
This ascension effort requires termination of the term limits set for national leaders since Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening was initiated and – in terms of political line and development strategy for China – the realization of so-called Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era. As we all know, Xi Jinping was a good student of Chairman Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong said that after the political line is decided, the cadres are the decisive factor. The Cultural Revolution came about because Mao failed to solve the cadre problem. Before Xi Jinping came to power at the 18th National Communist Party Congress – while ‘hiding his abilities and biding his time’ – he did not have the time and opportunity to build his own network of loyal supporters, except for the so-called Zhijiang New Army* and various political appointees later on. His national political organization is still very weak.
* The New Zhijiang Army (之江新軍 Zhījiāng Xīnjūn) is a term used by observers to refer to political figures in the Chinese Communist Party who held important provincial and local posts during Xi Jinping’s term as Communist Party Secretary of Zhejiang province. The “new army” refers to people who were closely associated with Xi and identifies with his political views, and who have since then taken on prominent political posts at the provincial level or in central party and state organs. The term was first widely used by Ma Haoliang (马浩亮), editor at Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao in an article entitled the New Zhijiang Army of Chinese Politics. The term Zhijiang refers to the Qiantang River, which runs through the province, but is often used as a poetic reference for the greater Zhejiang region. The term was initially used as title to Xi Jinping’s book Zhijiang Xinyu (之江新语), a book compiling the political philosophies of Xi Jinping during his five-year term as party chief of Zhejiang, published in 2007. The people close to Xi Jinping have also been referred to as 習家軍 Xí Jiājūn (“Xi Family Army”).
In addition, China’s economic situation is not good at present. Since Xi Jinping took office in 2012, the GDP growth rate has been decreasing, hovering at about six percent for a long time. The recently released GDP figures for 2021, although claiming a growth rate of 8.1 percent, are actually only about 5 percent when averaged with those of 2020. Therefore, there is no doubt that China’s economic development situation is deteriorating. The local fiscal deficit problem in the last two years has also made local officials cry for help, and the struggle between the central and local governments around fiscal interests will be further intensified. All these are the reasons and causes this is the last chance for Xi Jinping to rectify the cadre problem before the 20th National Communist Party Congress.
This is also linked to a number of political, economic, and social policies and actions taken by Xi Jinping since he took office: purging political rivals and dissidents under the pretext of anti-corruption campaigns, restructuring the financial sector, plunging headlong into the US-China trade war, suppressing the real estate economy, clamping down on large Internet enterprises, cracking down on the educational training industry, and even recently extorting artists and internet celebrities, to name a few. The logic is the same in all these matters, that is, some industries are suppressed because Xi Jinping does not like them for personal reasons, and some are shuttered because Xi Jinping feels that they are detrimental to his work of ascending to lifelong leadership. Therefore, from the very beginning the policy choice of “zero COVID tolerance” or “coexistence with the virus” has been a political choice tied to Xi Jinping’s great enterprise of ascension to become paramount leader for life. To ascend or step down? That is the question.【Back to TopPolicy2. Theoretical Connotation and Policy Agenda of Common ProsperityYu Jianxing, Ren Jie – Political Science Research – December 7, 2021Why Read This?
The realization of common prosperity is an essential requirement of socialism. In contemporary China, common prosperity needs to embody the unity of development, sharing and sustainability, which means that by correcting and compensating inequalities caused by institutional factors, all people have the opportunity and ability to participate equally in high-quality economic and social development, and share the fruits of economic and social development. Promote common prosperity in high-quality development, optimize the distribution pattern of resources and opportunities, protect and improve people’s livelihood, and strengthen and innovate social governance.(Read the full text

Back to topPolicy3. AIDS in China: Hidden Infections Remain UndetectedHuang Ziyi – Sanlian Life Weekly – December 24, 2021Why Read This?
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the global AIDS epidemic and the 36th year of the introduction of AIDS to China. Although the overall infection rate in China is well below the global average, infection among young students remains uncontrolled and male-to-male infections are still prevalent at high levels. If the UNAIDS goal is to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, there is still a gap in diagnosis and treatment coverage in China, with about one fifth of infected people going undetected, and there is still a long way to go to prevent AIDS.(Read the full text

Back to topPolitics4. Inter-Ethnic Political Integration Strategies of the Communist Party of ChinaZhou Ping – Theory and Reform – December 11, 2021Why Read This?
When New China was founded, China became a multi-ethnic country in the modern sense. From a practical perspective, the Chinese Communist Party first adopted the strategies of institutional integration and policy integration, then legal integration, and in recent years, national integration, thus achieving the goal of inter-ethnic political integration and effectively maintaining the unity and stability of the country. Today, in light of the changes in inter-ethnic relations in China and their emerging characteristics, exploring more adaptable and resilient ways of inter-ethnic political integration is still a fundamental issue that must be seriously addressed.(Read the full text

Back to topFinance and Business5. What Did the Chinese Working Class Look Like?Li Peilin, Wei Jianwen – Academic Monthly – December 9, 2021Why Read This?
With the rapid economic and social development and the widespread application of new technologies such as the Internet, the internal structure of China’s workforce is becoming more and more complex. The income disparity among workers is widening, the proportion of manufacturing workers continues to decline, and the group of migrant workers is experiencing negative growth, while new occupational groups related to the Internet and the new casual labor economy are making labor relations increasingly diverse. In view of this, with the declining share of manufacturing workers, it is necessary to be vigilant and prevent premature “de-industrialization,” reasonably regulate the income gap, and improve the technical skills of the workforce.(Read the full text

Back to topFinance and Business6. New Oriental “Breaks its Arms to Survive”: Laying Off 40,000 Employees, Cutting Executive Salaries, and Refunding Tens of Billions of DollarsMei Ling – Southern Weekend – December 24, 2021Why Read This?
On November 15, 2021, New Oriental, the largest private education service provider in China, announced that it would no longer provide K9 subject-based training services at all of its learning centers nationwide by the end of 2021. This part of the business accounts for approximately 60 percent of New Oriental’s revenue, which will decrease by US$2.566 billion based on the latest fiscal year’s revenue figures. In an internal speech, Yu Minhong, chairman of New Oriental, said that New Oriental should not be called a decent and elegant exit, but a confident turnaround or transformation. He sees this change as an opportunity for New Oriental to transform itself.(Read the full text

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