China bus crash sparks anger against local covid policies, officials

In democracies, it will have all that constitutes a political crisis for senior leaders: A devastating and preventable damage; a direct line from disaster to national policies; a looming re-election.

In China, it’s just a blip for President Xi Jinping, as he prepares for a third historic term.

The Deadly accident about a bus full of people going into coronavirus quarantine over the weekend underscores the extent to which Mr. Xi has defended his reign. After the crackdowns on dissidents, the chances are slim that this incident – or any other – could spur organized protests against the rule of law. his.

“It is difficult for public discontent to put pressure on Xi Jinping,” said Wang Hsin-hsien, a professor of East Asian Studies at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “The Communist Party is very skillful in handling this situation.”

The bus plunged into a ditch around 2:40 a.m. Sunday, when 45 Guiyang residents believed to be in close contact with the coronavirus patient arrived at an isolation center about 180 miles away. 27 people on board died.

Deadly bus accident in China causes outrage, grief over ‘zero covid’ policy

The tragedy has shocked public opinion, causing widespread anger and grief, possibly in part because it can happen anywhere in China. Such late-night moves have been common throughout the pandemic, as local officials struggle to meet deadlines to eradicate the outbreak.

“In fact, I’ve been on a late-night bus a few times this year,” said one Weibo post by an anonymous woman in Shanghai, where residents suffered. a painful two-month lockdown this year, with a lot of people being put in quarantine centers.

Cut corners to safety To destroy the virus has long been tacitly accepted by Beijing as long as it avoids public scandals, with Mr. Xi’s government making clear the priority is to keep the coronavirus from being tracked.

After the Guiyang accident, even pro-government commentators, such as Hu Xijin, the hawkish former editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, found it hard to simply consider it a traffic incidents and calls for a review of the local pandemic- control policies.

On Tuesday, public anger largely turned to the city government of Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, although its approach to the pandemic is not unique in the country. Criticism of central government policies has been widely censored on Chinese social media.

“There’s a lot of public criticism of zero-covid, but you don’t see this translating into significant criticism of the virus,” said Vincent Brussee, an analyst at Mercator’s Institute of China Studies. with Xi Jinping from within the system.” backlash.

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In response to the accident, the Guizhou government announced on Monday that three officials in Guiyang have been suspended and are being investigated. They are Zhu Gang, the head of the city’s Yunyan district, Song Chengqiang, the head of the quarantine transfer of Yunyan County, and a senior district police official.

Scholars say Mr Xi’s government is unlikely to back down from a “no static” approach that Beijing claims is superior and more humane than the US strategy of allowing the virus to circulate. China’s central government has repeatedly blamed deaths and deaths by local officials on poor execution by local officials, calling the overall strategy right.

Despite public discontent, organized resistance is unlikely, in part because Xi ordered a crackdown on political activists soon after he took power in 2012. Many critics The most outspoken of the Chinese Communist Party has been jailed or silenced.

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said Mr Xi had enjoyed widespread response at home so far this year, as prolonged lockdowns became increasingly the stark contrast to easing. loose control in other countries. But he said other officials are unlikely to challenge Mr. Xi for that.

“I would say that if China held a fair and open election last year, then Mr. Xi would win big. Not anymore,” he said. “Perhaps so, the decline in Xi’s popularity doesn’t change the fact that Xi now has the party apparatus under his control.”

The pandemic has also provided Chinese authorities with practical tools to prevent unauthorized gatherings, as was reflected earlier this year in Zhengzhou as angry customers. try to ask the local banks to return their deposits. Protesters reported that their coronavirus-tracking health codes suddenly turned red, preventing them from entering public spaces.

Beijing tightened entry rules this month, amid a series of new outbreaks, requiring a week of quarantine for people arriving from anywhere in the country with even one case. coronavirus infection.

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On Chinese social media, clear criticisms of Mr. Xi and his hard-line policies were spread, although some were quickly censored, and others. vaguely expressed.

“As expected, the lowest level workers were dragged out to take responsibility. Even if you don’t appear in court while you are alive, you will be nailed to the pillar of shame in history,” Yi Shenghua, a Beijing-based lawyer, wrote on Weibo about the Guiyang accident without saying anything. make it clear who he is referring to.

In a censored WeChat post posted on Sunday, a historian surnamed Zhao wrote a poem about an emperor whose subjects were exploited to death by officials.

On Sunday, Guiyang officials who publicly apologized for the accident announced an investigation and promised to prevent such accidents in the future. But they said they will continue to transfer quarantine subjects. On Monday night, according to an official post online, the city’s party secretary told officials there was no room for them to relax epidemic control.

Chiang reported from Taipei, Taiwan and Li from Seoul. Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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