Tiananmen activist sees Covid protests as turning point for China

Tokyo, Dec 1 (EFE) – Chinese academic Wang Dan, one of the former leaders of the Tiananmen student movement, said Thursday that he believes social unrest in China in response to the government’s strict “zero Covid” policy could prove to be a turning point for the country.

At a press conference held Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo, Wang said the unprecedented public protests will have “a significant influence on Chinese society,” which is showing signs of “heading into a new era” despite the threats of repression, and said he has been moved by them.

Wang, now an academic living in exile, said he felt that “the spirit of 1989 has returned,” because of the mobilization of students, and praised the “awakening” among those who have called for President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to step down.

“The most important impact the protests have achieved is communication,” Wang said. “Due to strict censorship, Chinese citizens are unable to openly discuss and exchange their opinions on political issues, and now they are doing so,” he added.

Many of the recent demonstrations in major cities across the country have been sparked by the death of a dozen people in a fire at a residential building in Urumqi who reportedly were unable to flee the blaze due to coronavirus restrictions that had placed the complex under lockdown, while emergency efforts were also hampered.

The protests have been compounded by the obvious weariness of the working population on the outskirts of the big cities, who have seen their jobs decline due to the strict measures of the zero Covid policy.

In recent days, Chinese authorities have tried to ease some pandemic regulations in the wake of the social unrest, but Wang sees the demonstrations as a “tough blow” to Xi, who may eventually opt for a more forceful response.

Wang is one of 47 activists who signed a letter sent this week to China’s military and police asking them “not to repeat the tragedy” of the soldiers who fired on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Following the bloody crackdown on the square, Wang, who was a student at Peking University and one of those who led the protests, was arrested and spent six years in prison.

After his release he was arrested again in 1995 for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party and sentenced to 11 years in prison. In 1998 he was released and went into exile in the United States. EFE


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