China’s zero-Covid policy has stirred intense anger among vast portions of the population, seen earlier this week when protests erupted in the western province of Xinjiang after an apartment fire led to the deaths of at least 10 people. Local residents have since claimed the death count is too low, the tragedy blamed on the prolonged Covid measures when the doors to an apartment building were locked and the fire service’s response became delayed. Protests quickly spread to major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, with crowds calling for Chinese president Xi Jinping to resign.
Such a demand is unheard of in China, where public dissent is usually snuffed out by law enforcement. While the anger in China is palpable, it remains highly unlikely that this will lead to the Chinese Communist Party losing its grip on power.
Since taking power in 2011, Xi has set about ensuring his position is as strong as possible. In 2018, Beijing lawmakers approved the removal of a two-term limit, essentially paving the way for Xi to rule for life.
In October this year, the Chinese President secured a third term in power. Now, Professor Kerry Brown, an expert on China from King’s College London, told Express.co.uk that it will take more than a few Covid protests to oust the Communist Party from power.
He said: “Is this going to lead to the toppling of the Communist Party in China? I think no. If this goes on for months and months and there’s bedlam, then they might have a problem.
“That’s the last thing we need at the moment. I know people think ‘Yay! freedom is coming to the Chinese’, but that route offers as difficult a path as trying to work with what is there at the moment.”
While it is clear the Communist Party is going nowhere, it still remains a mystery who will eventually succeed Xi. When the Chinese President secured his third term in power in October, he filled his top team with his closest allies: he appointed Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi to the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The Washington Post reported in October that one of these men could be the future leader of China.
Yang Zhang, a sociologist at American University’s School of International Service, told the newspaper that leading politicians on the Politiburo Standing Committee are usually phased out in a “seven up, eight down” system which sees those aged 67 or below promoted while 68-year-olds and above retire.
Loyalty to Xi is now believed to be the most important currency, as Mr Zhang continued: “It’s in everyone’s interests not to mention the issue of succession. Even if politicians born in the Sixties make it to the Politburo Standing Committee, they will merely be Xi’s technocrats.”
While no one is currently willing to challenge Xi, one of these men on the Politiburo Standing Committee could one day lead China. Ding Xuexiang, 60, has worked closely with Xi in a way few can match, and has essentially worked as the Chinese President’s chief of staff.
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Mr Xuexiang also previously worked on the Communist Party’s Central Secretariat, a job which saw him become pivotal in enforcing Xi’s political agenda.
Li Qiang is another influential Communist Party figure. He was the Party’s secretary in Shanghai, and was met with anger when he promised earlier this year that the city would not go into lockdown but shortly after u-turned.
Li is another key ally of Xi’s having backed his tough Covid lockdown rules.
Meanhiwle, Cai Qi, the former mayor of Beijing, was also promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee. He is another Xi loyalist and has worked with the president for over 20 years, but his appointment was not expected.
Zhao Leji, 65, helped Xi remove corrupt and disloyal officials from the party, and Wang Huning, 67, has been a pivotal figure in helping the Chinese president form big policies. Finally, 66-year-old Li Xi is described by Reuters as a “revolutionary fighter” and is close to Xi’s father.