Poverty trap looms amid China’s Covid crackdown

President Xi Jinping’s hardline policy is starting to cause economic pain as the lockdowns continue

It is a magnificent oxymoron. The People’s Republic of China is neither governed by the people nor for the people. In fact, the people are very much an afterthought in a country controlled by the Communist Party.

Secretive backroom deals elevated President Xi Jinping to power. Not the will of the people through the ballot box. Free and fair elections are considered counter-revolutionary for the gray men in the Politburo Standing Committee, the overloads of China’s political system.

Still, there have been rumblings of discontent about the immense power that Comrade Xi now wields in the nation of 1.4 billion people.

Nothing has illustrated this more than his never-ending “zero-Covid” policy of mass testing and flash lockdowns that have crippled the economy. Yet as provincial health bills soar, funding has been cut for poverty alleviation programs.

“Despite Xi’s claims of having vanquished poverty, most Chinese continue to struggle to make ends meet,” Cai Xia, a former professor at the prestigious Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, said.

“As [Premier] Li [Keqiang] revealed in 2020, 600 million people in China – some 40% of its population – barely earned US$140 a month,” she wrote in a commentary, entitled The Weakness of Xi Jinping, in Foreign Affairs.

We were not ready for such large-scale testing when we created the budget.

Jilin official

Food for thought:

  • Nearly every major city in China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, has suffered draconian lockdowns.
  • Residents restricted by the “zero-Covid” policy in areas across the country have complained of food shortages this week.
  • Tens of millions of people in at least 30 regions have been ordered to stay at home.
  • During the summer, protests erupted in Shanghai during a 60-day lockdown affecting 25 million people.   

What was said: “China has reported zero deaths from Covid-19 since May 26. But few people in the country hail this as an ‘achievement’ because the cost of getting that result has become too high,” the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

Delve deeper: Apart from the aftershocks of an economy in crisis, the fallout has tarnished Xi’s reputation as the president of the poor. Already the cost of mass testing has hit his flagship domestic policy.

Between the lines: “We were not ready for such large-scale testing when we created the budget. We have to search for alternative sources of funding and poverty alleviation is not [a priority],” an official in the city of Jilin said as reported by the Financial Times.

Blast from the past: Nearly two years ago, Xi pronounced a “complete victory” in China’s fight against poverty. “The country has blazed a poverty reduction trail with Chinese characteristics,” he said in a speech in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

China Factor comment: Social stability and economic competence have been the cornerstones of the Communist Party’s right to rule. Until the cracks started to appear.