'Badly Wounded' Xi Delivers New Year Message

He defends abrupt change in COVID policy
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2023 6:18 PM CST
In New Year Message, Xi Defends Handling of COVID
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the New Year gathering organized by the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022.   (Zhang Ling/Xinhua via AP)

In the weeks after China abruptly dropped its "zero-COVID" restrictions, Xi Jinping didn't publicly comment on the pandemic as a wave of infections swept the country, but he acknowledged in his New Year's Eve speech that the last three years had taken a heavy toll. "It has not been an easy journey for anyone," the Chinese leader said, per the Wall Street Journal. "Everyone is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us." He said the policy changed as part of a "science-based and targeted approach" that "optimized" measures depending on the situation. He acknowledged that there had been dissent, saying that in a big country it is "only natural for different people to have different concerns or hold different views on the same issue."

Since the start of the pandemic, the government has "always put people first and life first" and "the majority of cadres and masses, especially medical personnel, grassroots workers braved hardships and courageously persevered," Xi said, per Reuters. While China has officially reported relatively few COVID infections and deaths since restrictions were lifted—only one death was reported on Dec. 30—experts believe hundreds of millions of people have been infected and thousands have died, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums. Researchers say the wave of infections in cities like Beijing and Shanghai probably peaked in late December, but a surge in infections in rural areas is likely after the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, the South China Morning Post reports.

The draconian COVID restricts led to rare public protests in China, and the U-turn has led to more criticism of authorities, with people wondering why the government chose to drop restrictions in winter, when other viruses are surging, without preparing the health system for the onslaught, the Financial Times reports. Analysts says the crisis has severely damaged Xi's credibility as he begins his third term in power. "We can see very clearly that Xi Jinping is badly wounded in the sense that his prestige and authority have suffered tremendously," says Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "His claim that the Chinese system is the best in the world is now subject to serious questioning." (More China stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.