A wave of Chinese demonstrations against Beijing’s draconian COVID policies is testing President Xi Jinping, and how they develop from here “will be important to Xi’s standing,” the U.S.’s top intelligence official said.
The spread of angry protests and the government’s repressive response to them are “countering the narrative that he likes to put forward, which is that China is so much more effective at government” than the West, said U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
“How it develops will be important to Xi’s standing,” she said. But it’s “not something we see as being a threat to stability at this moment, or regime change or anything like that,” she added.
The comments were delivered Saturday as part of a wide-ranging interview at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
Several Chinese cities have started easing COVID rules, after demonstrations against the government’s strict lockdown measures swept across the country. Authorities are shifting to more-targeted measures following the wave of angry protests against the country’s strict zero-COVID rules.
Two more deaths from COVID were reported on Sunday, the Associated Press reported. The National Health Commission said the provinces of Shandong and Sichuan each reported a death, the AP said. No information was given about the ages of the victims or whether they had been fully vaccinated.
Haines said she believed the turmoil in China was partly due to the the fact that Xi “is unwilling to take a better vaccine from the West, and is instead relying on a vaccine in China that’s just not nearly as effective against [the] Omicron” variant.
The White House last week criticized the Chinese strategy and response to the protests, insisting that “everyone has the right to peacefully protest” and instead urging a ramp-up in vaccination campaigns.
U.S. and EU politicians, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have pushed for agreements to allow Western-manufactured vaccines to be used in China. But so far “we have not received any requests or any interest by China to receive our vaccines,” a White House official said.