COVID-Zero Policy Adds to Xi’s Re-Election Uncertainty

COVID-Zero Policy Adds to Xi’s Re-Election Uncertainty
Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrives for the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on March 10, 2022. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Justin Zhang
China’s harsh anti-COVID policy exacerbated the disunion in the Communist Party and intensified struggles among the party’s different factions, adding further uncertainty to leader Xi Jinping’s path of re-election at the upcoming twentieth party congress.
Despite ever stringent zero-tolerance measures on virus transmission, the Chinese Communist regime is having a hard time maintaining its grip on Shanghai. China’s biggest metropolis with the most populous urban area, “is facing an unprecedentedly severe and complex epidemic challenge since the normalization of local zero tolerance prevention and control,” said Wu Jinglei, Director of Shanghai Municipal Health Commission at a March 23 press briefing, according to Party mouthpiece CCTV. 
On March 27, Shanghai reported 50 new confirmed cases and 3,450 asymptomatic cases. As of March 22, there were 25,587 close contacts and an additional 60,883 contacts of the close contacts, announced the local health commission. 
Chinese official figures have long been thought to be seriously under reported, especially the pandemic casualties. Public opinion suggests that the actual outbreak in China may be much worse despite a lack of authentic data support.
At a politburo meeting on March 17, Xi Jinping stressed his determination to hold officials accountable for the out-of-control epidemic, saying, “ … immediately investigate and punish those whose dereliction of duty led to [an] uncontrolled outbreak of the epidemic in accordance with discipline and regulations.” 
On the same day, authorities in Jilin Province in northeastern China announced that 16 officials and public officers were being held accountable for their “ineffective prevention and control of the epidemic.” Since February, more than 60 local officials have been held accountable, in five provinces and municipalities, some of whom were dismissed from their positions.
According to Radio Free Asia in 2014, the “Jilin Gang” was supported by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ex-leader Jiang Zemin in the early 1990s. One of the highest officials Jiang promoted was Zhang Dejiang, then-secretary of the Jilin Provincial Party Committee, who later also became head of the CCP’s Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau and vice chairman of the Central State Security Commission. 
In the spring of 2003, Zhang was involved in concealing the SARS outbreak, an epidemic that left 1,755 people infected and 299 dead, including eight health care workers who died on duty, reported Apple Daily in 2016. The Hong Kong-based independent media outlet was forced to shut down in 2021 after Beijing imposed the State Security Law on Hong Kong.
So far, no Shanghai official has been held accountable for the out-of-control outbreak. The city’s governor, Li Qiang, as party secretary and member of the Central Politburo, is regarded as a member of Xi’s faction by China affairs observers. Li will be probably chosen to be one of Xi’s potential successors.
A range of policies by the Xi administration, aimed at purging political enemies, casts a shadow over Xi’s re-election that will be decided at the twentieth Communist Party Congress to be convened in the fall.
Since taking power in 2012, Xi has been embroiled in CCP power infighting. On Jan. 28, a few days before the Chinese New Year, Xi appeared in camouflage at the Central Theater Command Center as the military’s top commander, thereby asserting his power and intimidating his political opponents.
This year is time for a change in the CCP’s top echelons, which is usually the most intense period for political and power struggles among various factions. Each party committee at the central and local levels will be reshuffled every five years according to the CCP’s constitution, 
The Jiang faction, a gang for the political force of former leader Jiang Zemin, is Xi’s largest and most dangerous political rival that launched a coup against Xi on the eve of his rule in 2012 but ended in failure.
In the ensuing retaliatory purge, Xi was unable to remove Jiang’s forces, leaving himself exposed to potential hardship.
By the end of this year, when the twentieth Communist Party Congress is held, most of the Jiang faction’s senior officials will be at retirement age, which means they will be excluded from the power core—something Jiang’s forces cannot accept. 
It will also be a time of fierce competition for power between forces in the group going by CCP practices over the past years. 
In addition, Xi’s differential treatment of local officials, perceived to be ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, would make CCP cadres dissatisfied, stir up more conflicts between them, make personnel and power struggles more intense, and Xi would find it troublesome to prop up his own cronies.
Zhang Tianliang, a columnist for The Epoch Times, said Xi is bracing for more obstacles on his way to re-election, citing that certain policies of Xi ruffled the feathers of many with vested interests within the CCP, including the upper echelons who have supported Xi in the past. 
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
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