Xi leadership keen to alleviate residents’ discontent ahead of party congress

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress in October 2017

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration wants to quickly quell simmering discontent among residents over its strict “zero COVID” policies, which included the recently lifted lockdown imposed on Shanghai for about two months.

Central to the government’s thinking is the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress set for the latter half of this year, at which Xi prepares to secure a third term as leader. As a result, the government is attaching prime importance to rapidly rebuilding social “stability.”

Shanghai authorities praised their own pandemic countermeasures in a letter posted online Wednesday and addressed to all residents. The letter said the confidence and determination to achieve victory over the spread of infections was derived from the powerful leadership of the party’s central committee with Xi at its core.

The People’s Daily, a CCP organ, said Shanghai residents with great gratitude gave a sendoff to medical workers and other personnel who had been dispatched to the city from other parts of China at the orders of the party. Such comments appear to be aimed at convincing residents angry at the prolonged lockdown that Xi and the party exercised leadership to tackle their problems.

During the lockdown, videos of residents protesting against food shortages and other problems spread quickly on social media. At least one resident hurled insults at Li Qiang, the top official in Shanghai as party secretary, while he was on an inspection tour. The protests spread to Beijing and other cities. According to Hong Kong media, students at a university in Tianjin recently became so angry at the formulaic infection prevention measures that they shouted out calls for an end to such practices.

In early July, about 50,000 students in Shanghai are scheduled to take the national college entrance exam. Bringing a sense of normalcy back to daily life before then has become an urgent issue.

It appears easing Shanghai’s lockdown restrictions was a calculated decision, cognizant of the political schedule leading up to the party congress.

The Sing Tao Daily, a newspaper published in Hong Kong, reported a meeting to select Shanghai’s representatives to participate in the congress is being planned to start June 18. This would be at least one month later than when a similar meeting was held ahead of the previous congress in 2017. As of the end of May, only about 10 of about 30 regional administrative organs had held their respective selection meetings, so the entire process appears to be running late compared with the previous congress.

The party’s incumbent leaders and retired leaders typically meet to discuss important matters around July to August.

“The discussions with retired leaders will probably go ahead this summer, because the party congress is looming,” a party source told The Yomiuri Shimbun. “The administration likely will want infection numbers to be lower by then and to have all the local selection meetings completed.”