The protests in China against the country’s stringent zero-Covid policy have appeared to blindside the authorities. During a press conference on Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was briefly rendered speechless when asked whether the government would change its decision on the policy after widespread demonstrations.
During a press conference, when a Reuters reporter asked Lijian if China is thinking about ending the restrictions, the official was seen silently shuffling papers for a minute. He then asked the reporter to repeat the question.
After the reporter repeated his question, the spokesperson took some more time before saying “what you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened.”
After widespread protests erupted over the weekend following reports of 10 casualties in Urumqi city, the authorities came heavy on the demonstrators, to smother the protest with police patrolling, checking mobile phones and in some instances calling the demonstrators warning them of a repeat.
The police gathered in large numbers in squares and roads across China, where mass protests took place in decades, and have put barriers, including in Shanghai’s Urumqi road.
China’s domestic security chief vowed to “effectively maintain overall social stability” at a meeting on Tuesday in what appeared to be the first official response to the protests.
Without mentioning the demonstrations, Chen Wenqing urged law enforcement officials to “resolutely strike hard against infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces, as well as illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order,” reported CNN quoting state-run news agency Xinhua.
Two protesters told news agency Reuters that callers identifying themselves as Beijing police officers asked them to report to a police station on Tuesday with written accounts of their activities on Sunday night.
One student said he was asked by his college if he had been to an area where a protest was taking place and to provide a written report on his whereabouts.