China vows to crack down on ‘hostile forces’ as police deter protests

Chinese officials urged law enforcement agencies to take strong measures to safeguard national security and social stability. PHOTO: NYTIMES

BEIJING – China will resolutely crack down on “hostile forces” and their acts of “sabotage”, the Communist Party’s top body in charge of law enforcement agencies said, as a heavy police presence in major cities deters repeats of the Covid-19 protests seen at the weekend. 

Officials urged law enforcement agencies to take strong measures to safeguard national security and social stability at a plenary session of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission on Tuesday, chaired by Politburo member Chen Wenqing. The body also said “illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order” won’t be tolerated, according to a statement on the commission’s website.

While the statement didn’t mention the demonstrations against Covid restrictions from Beijing to Shanghai, Mr Hu Xijin – the retired editor-in-chief of state-backed tabloid Global Times and a vocal pro-government commentator – tweeted that it “conveyed a clear message of warning”.

“The protesters must have understood it. If they repeat those protests, the risks will increase severely,” he tweeted.

The message comes two days after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Shanghai, voicing their anger at China’s zero-tolerance Covid-19 approach. The protests, which also took place in Wuhan, Beijing and a number of other cities, were sparked by concern virus restrictions contributed to a deadly fire in an apartment block in the northwest Xinjiang region last week.

In the days since, large numbers of police have been stationed in key cities and around protest sites, with officers checking identification and smartphones of passers-by. The heavy police presence appears to be deterring further demonstrations, with plans still being shared in social media groups and encrypted messaging apps. 

Some pro-government commentators have already suggested the protests – which mark the most coordinated and widespread displays of unrest of President Xi Jinping’s tenure – were motivated by so-called foreign forces. 

Footage of a recent protest in Beijing showed an unidentified man warning the crowd around him of “foreign actors” among them. Demonstrators seem to refute his comments, saying those present were all Chinese and patriots.

A number of people are then shown saying to the man “what foreign actors are you talking about, Marx, Engels, Lenin or Stalin?” BLOOMBERG

SPH Brightcove Video
Chinese authorities have begun inquiries into some of the people who gathered at weekend protests against Covid-19 curbs, people who were at the Beijing demonstrations told Reuters, as police remained out in numbers on the city's streets.

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