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Lockdown Protests Spread Across China
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Lockdown Protests Spread Across China

The latest round of protests were sparked by an apartment fire where rescue efforts were reportedly delayed by anti-COVID measures.

Happy Monday! We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with loved ones, and that you didn’t accidentally try to smuggle any of those loved ones’ pets through airport security on your way home.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Treasury Department announced Wednesday it had sanctioned three security officials in the Iranian cities of Sanandaj and Mahabad for their role in the regime’s continued crackdown on protests throughout the country. “The Iranian regime has increased its aggressive actions against the Iranian people as part of its ongoing suppression of peaceful protests against a regime that denies human rights and fundamental freedoms to its people, especially women and girls,” the federal agency said.
  • The Treasury Department announced Saturday it had granted a license to Chevron that will allow the California-based oil company to resume operations in Venezuela for the first time in years. The decision—which is unlikely to significantly boost global oil supply in the short-term—comes after President Nicolás Maduro’s government and the U.S.-backed opposition coalition agreed to continue talks on the country’s democratic process and signed onto a Norway-brokered agreement that will unlock $3 billion for humanitarian relief. Treasury officials said the Chevron license prevents Petroleos de Venezuela SA—Venezuela’s national oil company, which has several joint ventures with Chevron—from receiving profits from any Chevron oil sales, and does not authorize any other economic activity with PdVSA.
  • Two people were killed—and more than 20 injured—after two similar, remotely detonated explosive devices went off at two different bus stops in Jerusalem on Wednesday. No individual or entity has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but Israeli officials believe them to be a part of a terrorist plot from an organized group that spent months preparing. The attacks represent the first of their kind against Israeli civilians in Israel in years, and come at a time of heightened tensions between the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders.
  • Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court rejected a challenge on Wednesday from outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party that claimed some electronic ballots cast through older machines should be annulled, which would have reversed Bolsonaro’s recent loss to leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Judge Alexandre de Moraes—the head of the electoral court—levied a $4.3 million fine against the Liberal Party, noting the plaintiff’s inability to provide “any evidence of irregularities” and dismissing the charges as “bizarre” and in “complete bad faith.”
  • Malaysia’s king appointed longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim prime minister of the southeast Asian country on Thursday after last week’s parliamentary elections failed to deliver any coalition a governing majority. Anwar—a former activist who was jailed multiple times in recent years on charges of sodomy that he denies and claims were politically motivated—pledged to welcome all to his “national unity government” provided they accept the fundamental rules: “good governance, no corruption and a Malaysia for all Malaysians.”
  • The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new orders for durable goods—products such as appliances, computers, and machinery intended to last three or more years—increased a seasonally adjusted 1 percent from September to October, and 0.8 percent excluding defense orders. The measure has now increased in three consecutive months, signaling demand remains steady despite inflation and recession concerns. The Federal Reserve released minutes on Wednesday from November’s Federal Open Markets Committee meeting indicating most Fed officials believe the pace of interest-rate hikes should slow in the coming months.
  • Network decision desks projected last week that Republican Kevin Kiley will defeat his Democratic opponent Kermit Jones in California’s 3rd congressional district and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola will once again defeat former Gov. Sarah Palin in the race for Alaska’s at-large House seat. Palin conceded the race, but Republicans have now won—or are leading in—222 congressional districts, compared to Democrats’ 213. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski is also projected to defeat her Trump-endorsed Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka.

Lockdown Protests Spread Across China

Protesters hold up white pieces of paper in protest against censorship during a protest march against COVID lockdowns in Beijing this week. (Photo by Kevin Frayer / Getty Images.)

After three years of draconian COVID-19 safety restrictions, some Chinese citizens have finally had enough.

In a number of cities across China, protesters spent their weekend taking down barricades meant to enforce COVID-19 lockdowns and pushing back on police in white COVID safety gear, according to social media posts. Many held blank sheets of white paper—a nod to censorship—and at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s alma mater, students chanted calls for democracy and freedom of speech and sang the Internationale. In Shanghai Saturday night, some went further, shouting for Xi and the Chinese Communist Party to relinquish power.

“I know what I’m doing is very dangerous,” one student protester in Shanghai told the Financial Times. “But it’s my duty.”

Sparked by outrage after COVID-19 lockdown measures may have slowed rescue attempts for people trapped in a Xinjiang apartment building during a fire, the demonstrations sprang up this weekend in cities and towns across the country, from Xinjiang in the west—where Chinese authorities have repressed Uyghurs and other minorities—to major eastern political and economic hubs including Beijing and Shanghai. This type of widespread protest outbreak is nearly unheard of in China, drawing immediate comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. 

Xi signaled his continuing support for China’s zero-COVID policy at last month’s party congress, but has softened his stance slightly in recent weeks. On November 11, China’s National Health Commission shortened quarantine periods for people entering the country and reduced mass testing requirements. But local officials still face pressure to keep infections down, resulting in uneven enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions that has fueled frustration and panic in recent weeks. Earlier this month, residents of industrial Guangzhou burst out of lockdown, dismantling COVID-19 barriers and clashing with police. A few days later, hundreds of workers at an Apple factory in Zhengzhou marched out, complaining they’d been quarantined without food during lockdowns and misled about pay bonuses. Riot police beat many, and Foxconn—the company operating the factory—offered $1,400 payments to workers who wanted to leave.

This latest and most far-reaching round of protests began Friday in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, one day after a fire in an apartment building killed at least 10 people. Some in the city have been under lockdown for four months, and videos shared on social media suggested COVID-19 lockdown measures may have slowed firefighters’ rescue efforts. A candlelight vigil for those who died in the fire quickly popped up in Shanghai, where people went hungry during two months of sudden lockdowns earlier this year. Until now, criticism of China’s COVID-19 policies had remained largely online—Weibo was abuzz in September when a bus transporting people to quarantine crashed and killed 27. But this weekend’s demonstrators reassembled multiple times after security officials dispersed crowds.

The police response seems to have grown increasingly aggressive over the weekend—officers reportedly detained, pepper sprayed, and beat some protestors—though there haven’t yet been reports of mass detentions. The BBC also said that security officials had detained and beat journalist Ed Lawrence while he covered a protest in Shanghai, telling the broadcaster he’d been arrested “for his own good in case he caught COVID from the crowd.”

The demonstrations present a dilemma for Chinese leaders. The relative easing of COVID measures in recent weeks has accompanied a record surge in infections, and with lagging vaccine uptake, China’s inadequate healthcare system could genuinely be overwhelmed if zero-COVID policies are abandoned altogether. But lockdowns have already taken a heavy economic toll—shutting down small businesses and major manufacturers alike—and the Chinese people’s patience is evidently wearing thin. “The tenuous trust between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people is starting to fray, and it is not entirely clear Xi has any new ideas to turn the tide,” said Craig Singleton, China Program Deputy Director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Xi will [likely] seek to appear responsive to the public’s growing discontent while politically distancing himself from recent lockdown orders, in essence shifting the blame to local and provincial-level officials.”

Still, it’s unlikely the weekend’s demonstrations pose a threat to Xi or the CCP’s power. The infrastructure of COVID-19 lockdowns—from apps for testing status to quarantine facilities—has only added to authorities’ toolkit for quashing freedom of movement and protest. Through the mass detainment and surveillance of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang—and years of online censorship—the CCP has already honed its ability to control its citizens. Meanwhile, China has successfully pressured major companies to curb Chinese citizens’ ability to communicate and organize protests: earlier this month, Apple restricted use of the AirDrop feature for iPhones sold in mainland China, hamstringing a tool used to spread protest literature.

But this weekend, protesters didn’t let fear of arrest or surveillance stop them. One Uyghur demonstrator told the Associated Press the crowds had given him strength. “Everyone thinks that Chinese people are afraid to come out and protest, that they don’t have any courage,” he said. “Actually in my heart, I also thought this way. But then when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was very brave.”

Worth Your Time

  • For a first-person account of the demonstrations in China this weekend, check out Allen Wan’s latest for Bloomberg. “Never could I have imagined thousands of Shanghai residents, young and old, converging along Wulumuqi Road in the famous French Concession on a Sunday night,” the Shenzhen bureau chief writes. “I’ve never seen so many police gathered in one spot in China. Several dozen formed a human barricade on one block to prevent people from walking along the road—and possibly repeating the scene of the previous day’s protests—while hundreds more masked and uniformed officers were bussed into its narrow lanes as a show of force. While it never descended into outright violence, there were definitely moments of tension. Two young men told me that they saw dozens of protesters being hauled away in police vans. I saw one woman in front of a chicken restaurant kicking and screaming as she was dragged along by police. In another instance, two officers held a man aloft by his head and feet as they took him away.”
  • Americans are spending more and more time alone, economist Bryce Ward notes in a Washington Post op-ed—and it’s not just a COVID-19 thing. “Between 2014 and 2019, time spent with friends went down (and time spent alone went up) by more than it did during the pandemic,” Ward notes, citing the Census Bureau’s annual American Time Use Survey. “It is too soon to know the long-term consequences of this shift, but it seems safe to assume that the decline of our social lives is a worrisome development. Spending less time with friends is not a best practice by most standards, and it might contribute to other troubling social trends—isolation, worsening mental health (particularly among adolescents), rising aggressive behavior and violent crime. Americans rate activities as more meaningful and joyful when friends are present. Friends and social connections build on themselves and produce memories and fellowship. They also boost health and lead to better economic outcomes.” Luckily, you can start reversing these trends without waiting for the researchers and policymakers to figure it all out. “Go to that holiday party (or throw one yourself),” Ward writes. “Go hang out with friends for coffee, or a hike, or in a museum, or a concert—whatever. You will feel better, create memories, boost your health, stumble across valuable information—and so will your companions.”
  • In a piece for Politico, Jordain Carney and Olivia Beavers tell the story of three old West Point classmates—John James, Wesley Hunt, and Pat Ryan—who are reuniting as new members of Congress. Political observers—and members themselves—hope a recent surge in lawmakers with a military background will help ease tensions in the increasingly hot-tempered body. “We go back 20 years. So it’s a different relationship,” Hunt said. “They’re not the only group in Congress bonded by time in the military,” Carney and Beavers write. “Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Rep.-elect Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) worked together twice in the Air Force, with the former quipping that the 43-year-old newbie—who credits Bacon with teaching him how to fly a jet—has already bestowed the nicknames ‘old man’ and ‘boss.’ Reps. Jake Ellzey (R-Texas) and Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) also flew the F/A-18 Super Hornet combat aircraft together for a Navy Strike Fighter Squadron, first meeting in 2001. By 2003, they were providing air support as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.” That “special kinship” among veterans in Congress “easily extends across the aisle on issues related to veterans and military families,” Ellzey and Garcia told Politico. “They pointed to Democratic lawmakers like Reps. Salud Carbajal of California and Texas’ Marc Veasey and Colin Allred, all of whom have helped on bipartisan legislation or launched talks about how to help military communities.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Reminder: The Morning Dispatch is hiring! If you’re interested in helping put this newsletter together on a daily basis, be sure to check out our new job listing here. Have any questions? Shoot a note to members@thedispatch.com with “TMD Job” in the subject line.
  • The United Nations estimated the global population surpassed 8 billion last week, leading to the typical consternation about population growth. But there’s never been a better time to be born in the history of this planet, Scott writes in his latest Capitolism (🔒). “Future challenges remain, but we can and should be confident that they’re conquerable too,” he argues. “As long as we continue to let people conquer them.”
  • Klon’s Thanksgiving edition of The Current runs through his life story—how he ended up “deploying around the world looking for Osama bin Laden”—in order to express gratitude for where he is. “All of this is made possible by you,” he writes. “Without readers, I’m just some dude firing off thoughts into the digital void. Thank you for reading.”
  • Chris’ latest Stirewaltisms (🔒) focuses on his favorite American civic holiday. “Thanksgiving is the most attitudinally conservative of our holidays,” he writes. “It is not about pride in all the good things we have and the great works we have achieved, but is instead rooted in humility. You can’t be thankful for what you believe you deserve, so humility begets gratitude, which begets happiness.”
  • David defends his support of the Respect for Marriage Act in his Wednesday French Press, and critiques existential certainty in his Sunday newsletter. “Ultimately,” he argues, “fundamentalism—for all of its punitive power—simply cannot compete with grace in the contest for the human heart.”
  • On the site over the weekend, Peter Meilaender reviews a children’s book about punctuation, and Alec shares his thoughts on Mark Mylod’s “surprisingly funny” dark comedy, The Menu.
  • And on the site today, Yuval Levin analyzes the factors behind Republicans’ unexpectedly poor showing in this month’s midterms, suggesting that “maybe voters didn’t choose change in this election because they weren’t actually offered change, but the very same options they faced and turned down last time.” And Chris Stirewalt looks ahead to three events in the next few weeks that will shape the political landscape going into 2024: the election of a new House speaker, the Georgia Senate runoff, and a debt-ceiling fight as the current spending package expires in mid-December.

Let Us Know

If you lived in an authoritarian country like Iran or China, do you think you’d risk the consequences that come with public protest? How would you determine whether a demonstration was “worth it?”

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.