Ten individuals were killed in an apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, as their doors were locked from the outside due to lockdown restrictions, which sparked the initial protests. While lifting those limits was the protest’s main objective, it ultimately resulted in calls for Chinese President Xi Jinping to resign. Using white paper or plain white fabric as an anti-censorship symbol, protesters condemned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and called for democracy and the right to free speech.
What led to the events?
There are a few things that can be noted from this mass protest. It’s hard to imagine such a large-scale event occurring in China, as the last major protest in China that attracted a military presence took place more than 30 years ago. But these demonstrations are not unique to Beijing. In 2019, a three-month pro-democracy demonstration took place in Hong Kong.
But last month’s protests came after nationwide tension was built when Xi addressed the 20th CCP Congress in October, stating: “In responding to the sudden outbreak of Covid-19, we put people and their lives above all else, working to prevent the re-emergence of cases arising from within or brought from abroad, and by persistent pursuit of a dynamic zero-Covid policy”.
China Will Decide Who Wins the Fight: Russia or the West
This statement illustrates China’s effort to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, including implementing a strict lockdown. However, such efforts led to the frustrations heard during recent protests. Indicating that despite the President’s party reappointment, certain groups still dare to delegitimize the power of Xi and the CCP.
When Xi was reappointed by Congress as the CCP’s general secretary. Following was this statement by party delegates, “We must resolutely uphold Comrade Xi’s core position on the Central Committee and in the Party as a whole and fully implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
It will be interesting to see how this protest develops and what the Chinese government does next. Just days of protests at Tiananmen Square led to the CCP’s decision to use military force to disperse the crowds, which killed civilians and led to widespread arrests. As a result of these actions, China received international sanctions, especially from the US and other western countries.
Unlike the crackdown on Tiananmen Square, the CCP’s handling of the Hong Kong protests did not involve using live ammo or the military. Instead, Hong Kong security forces dispersed the protest using water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. With current events, Beijing is mindful that deploying force, as it did in the past, could damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a free zone under China’s “One Country, Two Systems” principle. As a result, with Hong Kong as an economic hub, sanctions will impact China.
Another step to quell demonstrations in Hong Kong is to withdraw the Extradition Bill, which is the direct demand of protestors. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong carried out this action; however, there is speculation that Beijing was behind the decision.
What’s next and impact on Indonesia
Of course, it is too early to tell how these current protests will end. However, even if they escalate, Beijing will likely handle it how they did with the 2019 protest. On the other hand, if the CCP’s actions lose lives and damage the economy, it will lose more respect from Chinese citizens.
Even though these protests may last for some time, Beijing is likely to avoid using military force or violence and may slowly ease lockdown rules to prevent the spread of public sentiment. By doing this, the Chinese government and CCP could both maintain the people’s legitimacy and accelerate economic recovery.
Based on the Indonesian National Survey Project in July 2022 by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute which interviewed a group of 1,600 diverse respondents directly regarding economic, domestic, and international politics, revealed that almost 25.4% of the Indonesian public believes the rise of China would negatively affect Indonesia. In contrast, only 30% of people believe establishing relations with China will benefit Indonesia.
Will we see BRIICS now?
The survey also showed positive feelings towards China among Indonesia only reached 66%, compared to 76.7% five years ago. Not only that, many people are also worried about Indonesia’s involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project; as many as 41.5% of respondents think BRI can create a debt trap for other countries, including Indonesia. A belief, most likely based on events in other countries, such as the construction of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which resulted in economic losses.
Negative perceptions of China also extend to Chinese descendants in Indonesia. As demonstrated by 41% of survey respondents who think Chinese descendants are still loyal to China.
A recent study by LAB45 showed that the re-election of Xi is a breath of fresh air for countries in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. However, the recent protests in China may create obstacles to its continued presence in Indonesia, the closest of China’s ASEAN allies.
[Tasheanna Williams edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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