The controls have become harder to justify as rapidly spreading Omicron variants continued to slip through, and especially as the rest of the world has increasingly adjusted to living with the virus.
Understand the protests in China
“By now, Xi Jinping should also understand that this virus can’t be controlled, and if it can’t be controlled, then opening up must happen sooner or later,” said Deng Yuwen, a former editor at a Communist Party newspaper, the Study Times, who now lives in the United States and writes commentaries on Chinese politics. “But most fundamental of all, the economy can’t hold up any longer. If they try tightening up again, the ordinary people would really raise hell.”
For many in China, the relief was immediate. People flocked to Chinese social media and video sites to post thumbs-up emojis and comments like: “I’m crying, I’ve waited for three years.”
A migrant worker who had protested against a lockdown last month at an iPhone manufacturing complex in central China said he was elated by the news. “Our voices are finally heard,” said the worker, who gave only his last name, Zhang, out of fear of retaliation by the authorities. “We workers no longer have to be locked up, starved and suppressed.”
Far from indicating defeat in the face of broad opposition, China’s state media has depicted Wednesday’s turn in policy as the latest in an unbroken succession of wise choices that have resulted in a hard-earned victory for China. “In the past three years, the virus has weakened, and we have become stronger,” the official Xinhua news agency wrote in a commentary Wednesday titled “Winning the Strategic Initiative Through Persistence.”
For days, the propaganda apparatus has been pushing the idea — long understood elsewhere — that Omicron variants are less lethal than the coronavirus’s earlier iterations. Officials and state media reports have quietly dropped the use of “dynamic zero Covid,” Beijing’s term for the strategy of lockdowns and quarantines to clear infections.
The media blitz showed how the party can shift gears by using its propaganda to obfuscate what were policy mistakes, said Willy Lam, a longtime analyst of Chinese politics in Hong Kong who is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.
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