China’s Big Brother is alive and well, and stalking China’s virtual chatrooms.
Amid the chaos of Shanghai’s controversial lockdown, Beijing’s “surveillance state” has ramped up its “draconian” crackdown on dissenting voices.
The cosmopolitan city of nearly 26 million people has been barricaded off from the rest of the world for more than six weeks after a wave of Covid-19 infections, fueled by the Omicron strain.
Yet even plans to reopen Shanghai on June 1 have been met by skepticism from residents and a heavy-handed backlash from President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party.
“Beijing’s internet censors are starting to reveal the locations of users beneath their [online] posts, a rapidly expanding practice which has further chilled online speech in China,” The New York Times reported on May 19 in its Morning Briefing.
“Authorities say the location tags, which are displayed automatically, will help unearth overseas disinformation campaigns intended to destabilize China,” it added.
Gagged and abused:
- Shanghai citizens complaining about the “bungled” Covid-19 “shutdown and food shortages” have been branded “selfish” by nationalistic trolls.
- A lack of patriotism has also been used to silence criticism of Xi’s “zero-Covid” policy.
- Since the lockdown started, Shanghai’s Party officials have taken increasingly hardline measures.
- They have canceled food deliveries in some neighborhoods, according to CNN.
- They have also forced residents who tested negative for Covid-19 into government quarantine.
- But Shanghai is not the only city to have suffered.
- Japan’s investment bank Nomura has estimated that more than 373 million people in 45 Chinese cities were living under some form of lockdown in April.
No escape: “Even for the most defiant Chinese people, there is no escape. In footage circulated on social media, a man was bound in tape from shoulder to foot, then carried into a waiting van like a rolled carpet, after failing to co-operate with health officials in the northern city of Dandong,” The Sunday Times in London revealed.
Surveillance state: “Such images are at the center of a cat-and-mouse online confrontation between citizens and censors as the world’s most sophisticated surveillance state struggles to contain an angry response to draconian coronavirus controls,” the British newspaper pointed out on May 15.
The official view: “China is one of the countries with the most successful Covid-19 response in the world … [Its] dynamic policy, which prioritizes protecting lives and balancing economic development, will stand the test of history and be respected,” Chinese commentator Su Xiaozhou wrote in the state-controlled Global Times on May 17.
Delve deeper: Low vaccination rates among the elderly appear to be at the heart of Xi’s “zero-Covid” strategy, despite all the Party’s propaganda. Changing the policy now could see a “tsunami” of infections and almost 1.6 million deaths, a study warned in the Nature journal.
What that means: A peer-reviewed research paper by Shanghai’s Fudan University projected more than 112 million symptomatic cases, five million people needing hospital treatment and 1.55 million deaths.
Swamped by Omicron waves: “We find that the level of immunity induced by the March 2022 vaccination campaign would be insufficient to prevent an Omicron wave that would result in exceeding critical care capacity with a projected intensive care unit peak demand of 15.6 times the existing capacity,” the study said.
China Factor comment: Even though the world’s second-largest economy is tanking, China’s “zero-Covid” policy will remain, ring-fenced by the ultimate surveillance state.