Beijing imposes vaccine mandate, backs down and cancels after 48 hours due to public outrage

This must be a first in communist China.  Adam Minter reports in Bloomberg:

Beijing's stout city leadership rolled out China's first Covid-19 vaccine mandate last week. The policy made boosters mandatory for some professions, while entry to busy public venues like movie theaters and gyms was restricted to the vaccinated. The public reacted quickly, with many residents turning to social media to declare the mandate an illegal usurpation of their rights. Beijing's response was just as quick: Less than 48 hours after announcing the policy, the city government rescinded it.

We are accustomed to seeing China's citizenry meekly accepting draconian measures, even reading of apartment doors welded shut and inhabitants starving to death due to COVID quarantines.  But now, is something different?

Minter points to authorities monitoring social media:

For decades, the Chinese authorities have censored information deemed unfriendly, while promoting state-backed narratives that enhance the regime's authority.

The internet — and especially social media — complicated both tasks, requiring huge investments in human and machine monitoring and content-generation. In 2014, the Communist Party-owned Beijing News reported that public and private Chinese entities employ more than 2 million public opinion "analysts." Among other roles, they "collect the opinions and attitudes of netizens, organize them into reports, and submit them to decision makers." These days, even relatively minor agencies — such as the Beijing International Horticultural Expo Coordination Bureau — purchase public opinion analysis.

What do these entities get for their money? In theory, they're buying insurance that they can cut off populist surges before they become political problems for a regime that values stability above everything else. Unfortunately for the regime, those surges happen more often than they'd like.

After describing the genie-out-of-the-bottle effect of stoking nationalism, he concludes:

China finds itself with a populist dilemma more commonly associated with democracies. The danger for China's rivals is that the country's leaders may find that meeting populist expectations becomes harder as tensions mount globally. It's easy to censor a social media post; controlling deeply held sentiments is a lot harder.

Left unmentioned is the pending 20th Party Congress, a key event for Xi Jinping, who wants ratification of his plan to become dictator for life.  With China's economic growth imperiled by its drastic reaction to COVID and the persistence of outbreaks despite (or because of) the Zero COVID policies of Xi, there may be far more unrest among the ranks of the party elites than is visible to outsiders.

I am not deeply immersed in China's domestic politics, but I do know that factionalism has been endemic to Chinese politics for millennia, and I have to believe that Xi's mismanagement of COVID, his recent hostility to private accumulation of wealth, his aggressive stance toward Taiwan (lots of mainland jobs depend on Taiwanese investment in China), and his attempt to install himself as a Mao-like figure have sparked a lot of resentment.

I don't recall the Chinese government ever backing down only two days after imposing an edict on its people.  The fact that this happened in Beijing, where the Party Congress will take place, and that the vax mandate affected party elites suggests that Xi is worried about opposition to his plans to become dictator for life.


Photo credit: Officia do Palácio do Planalto (Brazil), CC BY 2.0 license.

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