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Zero-Covid protests are spreading across China – but a violent crackdown will follow | James McMurray

From Xinjiang to Shanghai and Beijing, protests are creating a rare sense of unity that Xi Jinping cannot afford to allow

China’s heavy-handed zero-Covid policy was intended to save lives. Now, it’s having devastating consequences. Last week, a fire killed at least 10 people, including children, in a tower block in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. As ever in China, official numbers are unreliable, and the true number of casualties may be much higher. It’s clear that the citizens now protesting across China blame the tragedy on the lockdown, despite the claims of local officials that fire escapes in the building were not locked. Horrific videos of the fire show emergency services attempting in vain to douse the flames from beyond a roadblock, while victims scream from the windows pleading for somebody to open the doors of their apartments.

For once, the suffering of Xinjiang’s people seems to have evoked widespread empathy among China’s wider populace. When Uyghur demonstrations in Urumqi were crushed by police and security services in 2009, it evoked little sympathy from China’s ethnic Han majority. Instead, the demonstrations precipitated a wave of ethnic violence, accompanied by calls across the Chinese internet for severe punishment for the demonstrators. Similarly, the intense crackdown on Uyghur society that has been going on since 2017 – involving mass incarcerations, forced sterilisations and the destruction of communities – was largely dismissed by the rest of the Chinese populace as a necessary measure to control a defiant and restive minority.

Dr James McMurray is a research associate in anthropology and a member of the Asia Centre at the University of Sussex

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Read the original article at The Guardian

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