1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

China: Police deployed in force to prevent protests

November 29, 2022

China is witnessing its biggest wave of public dissent in a decade. Chinese universities are now sending students home in a bid to tighten COVID restrictions.

The Chinese police form line during a protest against the COVID restrictions
Following calls for more protests, a huge number of Chinese police were deployed on the streets of major citiesImage: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

An increased number of Chinese police personnel were seen patrolling the streets of cities like Beijing and Shanghai on Tuesday. The deployment comes  as more people called for protests against lockdowns.  

The pushback marks the biggest wave of civil disobedience since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power over a decade ago. Citizens have taken to the streets across China to protest against the draconian COVID curbs which have affected the lives of millions, damaged the economy and disrupted global supply chains.

Protesters are now asking President Xi to step down. Chinese universities are now sending students home in an attempt to tighten COVID restrictions and prevent further protests.

Chinese police arrest a protester during a demonstration in Shanghai
China is currently witnessing its largest civil disobedience movement in a decadeImage: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

Beijing says UK journalist did not identify himself 

China's Foreign Ministry said journalists shouldn't engage in activities not related to their role.

The comments come after the UK broadcaster the BBC had said one of its reporters was assaulted and detained while covering protests in Shanghai.

"According to authorities in Shanghai, the journalist in question did not reveal his journalist identity at the time. He did not openly show his foreign press card," Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

"When the incident happened, law enforcement personnel asked people to leave, and when certain people did not co-operate, they were taken away from the scene."

Official says public complaints about implementation

A senior Chinese health official said on Tuesday that public complaints over COVID-19 restrictions are due to their implementation rather than the measures themselves.

"The problems highlighted by the public are not aimed at the epidemic and control itself," Cheng Youquan, a supervisory official of the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration, said. Protesters' demands "focus on simplifying prevention and control measures," he stressed.

Asked on whether Beijing could reconsider its zero-COVID policy, National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng said that officials would continue to adjust measures to reduce negative impacts on society and the economy.

Protesters 'desperately deleting' chats

Residents told several media outlets that the police are going through their phones to check for suspicious content, usage of virtual private networks (VPN) or the Telegram app, which is being used to coordinate protests.

In China, using VPNs is illegal and the Telegram app is blocked from the internet.

"We are all desperately deleting our chat history," a protester in Beijing told the Reuters news agency.

"There are just too many police. Police came to check the ID of one of my friends and then took her away. We don't know why. A few hours later they released her."

In Beijing, the police particularly patrolled across the Liangma river promenade near the diplomatic quarter where hundreds of protesters had gathered on Sunday evening.

DW's East Asia correspondent William Yang tweeted a video from Guangzhou city where angry protesters can be seen destroying a COVID testing booth. 

On Sunday night, a busload of demonstrators were reportedly taken away by the police in Shanghai. On Monday, a planned protest did not take place as dozens of police officers choked the crossroad near the assembly point in the city.

Protests triggered by a fire 

Earlier this week, protests turned violent at the world's biggest iPhone factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Social media footage showed workers being beaten by police.

The facility was placed into lockdown last month, with many workers forced to sleep inside for weeks.

The highly unusual recent protests in the communist-ruled country were triggered after a deadly fire engulfed a residential building and killed 10in the capital city of Xinjiang province last week.

The fire acted as a catalyst for public anger as many blamed COVID restrictions for hampering rescue efforts. Large parts of the city have been under strict lockdown for more than 100 days now.

In response to this, Beijing has accused "forces with ulterior motives" of linking the fire to the COVID measures.

Britain: Need to 'evolve our approach to China'

Protesters have used the rallies to ask for more freedom and the resignation of President Xi who was recently appointed to  an unprecedented third term as China's leader.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned that China now posed a "systemic challenge" to British values and interests. He added that the UK would have to "evolve our approach to China."

He also condemned the assault on a BBC reporter by Chinese police on Monday.

The White House responded to the protests and said that President Joe Biden is closely monitoring the unrest. The National Security Council spokesman John Kirby added that "People should be allowed the right to assemble and to peacefully protest policies or laws or dictates that they take issue with."

Speaking to DW, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that he hoped Chinese authorities would "respect" the protesters' freedom.

Chinese government: 'Grit your teeth'

Currently, China is witnessing its highest COVID case numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the health commission in Beijing reported some 38,400 new cases, a slight drop compared to the record of more than 40,000 set a day earlier.

Several analysts believe that easing the policies could lead to more illness and overwhelm the country's health infrastructure.

In October, President Xi  defended his zero-COVID strategy and said that the control measures had "protected" people. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping points with his index finger while wearing a mask
Chinese President Xi considers his zero-COVID policy a political achievementImage: Xie Huanchi/IMAGO

According to officials, it is his zero-COVID policy which has kept the death toll in a country of 1.4 billion people under control.

An editorial in the People's Daily — the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper — urged citizens to implement the zero-COVID policy and said that victory will come with "perseverance through thousands of hardships."

"The harder it is, the more you have to grit your teeth," read the editorial.

ns,sdi/dj (Reuters, dpa, AFP)