Nov 28, 2022
Protestors urge China’s President Xi to resign over Covid restrictions Transcript
Protests over China’s strict Covid measures have intensified, with some protesters calling on the country’s president to resign. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Protests in China against the government’s strict Covid measures there have intensified, with some people publicly venting their anger at leaders of the Communist Party. Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Shanghai, calling for President Xi Jinping to step down. The BBC saw people being bundled into police cars. These images are from Beijing where students gathered at the elite Tsinghua University, and there hundreds called for democracy, rule of law, and freedom of expression. Students also demonstrated at the University of Nanjing, while the protests began after deadly fire in the western city of Urumqi. Some blame Covid controls for a delay in putting that fatal fire out. Well, we can talk now to our Asia Pacific Regional Editor for BBC World Service, Michael Bristow, who’s here with me in the studio. Michael, there have been protests before about Covid restrictions, but how significant are these? Because they seem to be quite political, calling even for the resignation of the country’s leader, Xi Jinping.
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the key point. Despite the fact there’s censorship in China, there are and there have been for many years, protests across the country. These are mostly local incidents, isolated incidents for specific issues. Also, over recent months have been increasing number of protests about the strict Covid restrictions that have been put in place in China, but these are different because they’re making a direct call for political action, political change, most notably calling for Xi Jinping to stand down. Now, I can’t remember over the last several years for any demonstrations to be calling for something like that. In some ways it’s not surprising because Xi Jinping has championed this policy. China’s zero Covid policy is his policy. He’s maintained it, he’s promoted it. So it’s not really unusual that he should now be getting the blame when people are feeling the effects of these continuous lockdowns.
Speaker 1 (02:03):
And how worried do you think he will be and the country’s Communist ruling elite, how worried will they be by these protests, and what will they do? I mean, we’ve seen a lot of arrests, but I mean are they going to crack down on them pretty hard?
They won’t be panicking at the moment because there have been protests before that they’ve managed to extinguish. They’ve quietened down. But they will be worried because one thing that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t want to happen, and works hard to stop happening, is for protestors across the country unifying on a general theme such as these policies for zero Covid policies. That’s what the Chinese authorities don’t want people to do, and they work hard to stop that. So the fact that these protests are erupting in a number of cities, all with the same theme, young people, educated people as well involved, a lot of them calling for political change, calling for more freedom, that’s going to worry the Chinese Communist Party. And I would imagine, and we’ve already seen this in Shanghai with the protests which are happening today, heavier police presence, arresting some people. They’ll be hoping they can nip it in the button that these protests will just fizzle out.
Speaker 1 (03:11):
All right, Michael, thank you very much indeed. And we can get more actually from Shanghai and more on those protests across China. We can talk to Thomas Hale, who’s on the line, a correspondent for the Financial Times newspaper in Shanghai. Thomas, thanks for being with us. What is the latest from Shanghai?
Thank you for having me. Yeah, I’m about 50 meters from what remains of the protest. I wouldn’t call it exactly a protest; it was a kind of mass gathering of people. It’s just been dispersed by police about 20, 30 minutes ago. And essentially they’ve cordoned off and blockaded the road on which it was happening. But there are still very large crowds gathered, essentially as close to the original site of the protest as they can get.
Speaker 1 (03:58):
And what is your view of the significance of these protests? How political are they?
I would say they’re extremely significant. And I would also say that the politics of China’s Covid policies is… I’m not sure if you can hear next to me quite a lot of disruption going on in the street. Sorry about that. But I would say that the Covid policies have become a kind of lightning node for wider frustrations, political frustrations in China, including over a slowing economy, which has been a very significant issue for much of the past year. So I would also add that on the front line of these gatherings, which haven’t really turned violent at any point, with a few exceptions, people will talk very frequently about freedom and about democracy and about the need for political change.
Speaker 1 (04:54):
It obviously requires quite a lot of bravery and courage, doesn’t it, for these protestors to come out onto the streets at all and face arrest?
Absolutely it does. And the fewer people, the more the bravery it requires. So as soon as you have a kind of critical mass, I think more people are drawn to these gatherings, but it’s very difficult for them to get going in the first place, it’s a very huge, huge risk for anyone who shows up.
Speaker 1 (05:22):
And do you think they will spread, these protests? Do you think they will intensify?
It’s very difficult to say right now. They have been spreading over the last few days. They’ve continued to spread over the weekend. The gathering I’m currently at was a cyber protest last night. I came here this morning, there was no one here. There were a few police cars. By mid-afternoon, there were hundreds of people again, and people continued to show up until about, as I say, half an hour ago when they closed the streets. So at least in Shanghai on the ground, the gatherings don’t seem to be going away. And there are a lot of signs of similar things happening at universities in China.
Speaker 1 (06:05):
Good to talk to you, Thomas Hale. Thank you very much indeed. From the Financial Times in Shanghai with the very latest on those protests in several different areas of China.