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Zero-COVID policy: China's President Xi bows down to female protesters

Tokyo: Though Chinese President Xi Jinping was successful in snubbing women in the leadership shuffle at the 20th Congress where he ensured his third term, however, Xi had to bow down to female protesters, who broke the nation free from the strict Zero-COVID policy, writes Katsuji Nakazawa in Nikkei Asia.
The achievement is all the more significant considering that it comes against Xi, who in October acquired ultimate power at the Chinese Communist Party's national congress. The perception is that Xi had no choice but to swallow his pride and make a concession, that not doing so might have created an even fiercer movement -- one calling for his resignation, said Katsuji.
At the forefront of China's white paper protests, women were holding blank sheets of A4 paper.

In reality, Xi might have used the white paper movement to flip-flop away from his zero-COVID policy, which was wreaking havoc on China's economy.
Whatever the truth, the switch is about to bring unintended consequences. While the protests have quietened down, another large-scale demonstration could be triggered, should another intolerable situation arise.
And a precedent has been set. Protests should be able to extract new concessions; the new logic goes. In this regard, the Xi administration might have unintentionally opened Pandora's box, reported Nikkei Asia.
One notable element of the white paper movement was that women were at the forefront. "Those who led the movements in various parts of the country are clearly women," said a source familiar with social movements across China.

"Lying behind their movement is a basic argument that women's rights should be protected."
The argument that the inhumane zero-COVID policy should be abolished, having restricted freedoms for far too long, is part of a much larger position, one that demands various rights, the source reasoned. And the backdrop behind all of this, the source insisted, is a drive to protect women's rights, said Katsuji.
Photographs of white paper rallies in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, and other Chinese locales invariably show women on the front line bravely holding up blank sheets of paper.
Interestingly, women were also at the forefront of demonstrations held in Taipei, Hong Kong, and Tokyo in support of the white paper protesters on the mainland.
This women-led international solidarity is a new phenomenon, reported Nikkei Asia.
Contemporary Chinese men tend to be conservative, sometimes unwilling to take bold action for fear of hurting their ability to gain and maintain social status as well as their future job prospects.

Most Chinese women have jobs too, but there are many women who have been impacted by job cuts related to the zero-COVID policy. Their demands included calls for jobs, food, and basic human rights.
The white paper protests were tricky for Xi because they reflected the various contradictions pervading Chine, reported Nikkei Asia.
Pent-up frustration among Chinese women is also due to sexual harassment and sexual violence in the country.
Earlier in the year, a public uproar occurred when a video of a 44-year-old woman, restrained with a chain around her neck, went viral on the internet.
Jiangsu Province authorities arrested her husband on suspicion of abuse. After being brought to a farming village, the woman, a victim of human trafficking, went on to have eight children with her husband.
China has a demographic imbalance. Rural areas, especially, have been left with more men than women due to the country's long-standing but defunct one-child policy.

Widespread kidnappings and trafficking of women to compensate for the "bride shortage" is a major social issue in China, reported Nikkei Asia.
The incident shed new light on oppressed women across the country and sparked nationwide calls for protecting their rights.
Local authorities initially tried to cover it up, but the calls on social media made it impossible to ignore. As with the abolition of the zero-COVID policy, the power of the people was on display.
The white paper movement is not over; social frustrations, such as those over women's rights, remain on a simmer. Protests could re-emerge sometime in the future and be even stronger, said Katsuji.
There is a possibility that new trends will link social movements throughout mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan despite measures like the Hong Kong national security law of 2020.
Moreover, the impact of the women on the streets stands in stark contrast to Xi's enthusiasm toward promoting women to key posts.
The all-male 24-member Politburo revealed at the party congress has drawn international condemnation.
Some see Xi's snubbing of women in the leadership shuffle as mirroring his lack of interest in protecting women's rights and seeming reluctance to attach importance to their points of view. (ANI)

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