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Why isn't China opening up again?


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I moved these comments from a more general thread because I thought there might be interest in discussing the question posed in the title. 

 

This is the post that got things rolling: (by @889)

 

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Hong Kong's departing leader today pretty much put any re-opening of HK's border with Mainland China on the far back burner. While this is hardly a surprise, it's the first time the Government has addressed the issue so frankly. Of course this also confirms that re-opening of Mainland China generally to the world is simply not under contemplation for now.

 

 

My reply: 

 

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You are better informed on this subject than I am. Why do you think this is true; why do you think Chinese policy has shifted? We all know the obvious reason it shifted initially, to prevent international spread of the Coronavirus. So, more precisely, what I wanted to ask was "Why hasn't it shifted back?" Are the leaders happy about having an excuse to roll back 改革开封?Are they secretly pleased with China's new isolation? Or am I misreading the situation? 

 

Is this new "closed door policy" Chairman Xi's brainchild? Is he reluctant to allow a "normalization?" If so, why? I would be interested in the speculations of yourself and others who have been following this issue more closely than I have. Thanks. 

 

 

 

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I can't find it now but I saw a news article a day or two ago saying that there may be plans to remove the letter (called PU letter or something like that) required for anyone with a work visa coming in, meaning that just a work visa (and presumably a bunch of quarantine) would be enough to come back.

 

Edit: Oh I just saw that someone already posted about this: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/62255-news-pu-letter-no-longer-required-for-z-visa-applications/

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They absolutely can't allow the virus to spread after pinning Xi's, and the whole party's, political credibility to the zero covid policy for over two years and the current political situation is only getting more and more volatile around this in the lead-up to the 20th party congress. The virus outbreak in HK, with lots of elderly people without the jabs dying of it, and the second quarter outbreak and ensuing chaos in Shanghai only highlighted this. There is also the real estate financial problem and the crackdown over the last 18 or so months on the big tech companies that led to them laying off 10-15 % of their staff just when covid and Russia in Ukraine hit the fan and the record 10+ million new graduates this year are looking for jobs.

 

It is pretty much everything you can imagine rocking the boat on Xi's big year when he is supposed to secure the third term, so they will do everything they can to promote societal and political stability and opening up and creating more opportunities for the virus to enter China and start spreading doesn't fit that picture. If anything, they only seem to be locking in stronger and stronger by even denying new passports for Chinese people themselves to prevent them from traveling abroad. Opening up is pretty much off the table at-least until after the party congress sometime in the fourth quarter. Likely not this year in any case.

If they have a opening up plan, they haven't told anyone about it. To me it seems that any meaningful opening up, would in any case require them to first raise the vaccination rate dramatically among the elderly and then change the official narrative from zero-covid to living with the virus, but they've spent the last two years bashing everyone else for adopting living with the virus policies and glorifying zero-covid while lately they've also determined to build long term testing facilities around the country so that no-one should have more than 15 minutes distance to the nearest testing station in cities. So it doesn't really look like they are planning to abandon zero-covid any time soon. Maybe they are planning to start opening up with strict quarantine measures for incoming visitors at some point while still sticking to zero covid.

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On 6/12/2022 at 4:14 AM, alantin said:

They absolutely can't allow the virus to spread after pinning Xi's, and the whole party's, political credibility to the zero covid policy for over two years

 

I think what lots of these kinds of discussions lack is talking about what the actual Chinese people want. I think for the most part it seems that all these policies actually do reflect at least the general the feelings of the Chinese people. For lots of people stability and safety really is the absolute top priority, I think they value it on the same level as how American people value "freedom". 

 

It hasn't been perfect over here but a while ago when the western media was talking about lockdown fatigue, in China, people had been going out for meals and living mostly normal lives already for a while. I'm not really sure if vaccines and the less deadly strains of the virus should change this view, but I think most Chinese people are happy to get on their lives in a mostly normal way without any real risk of getting sick.

 

Something else is there also seems to be a cultural pride in controlling things like this, as well as an idea that it's the leaders' responsibility to protect people from these kind of things. I can't remember who it was in Chinese mythology that walked past his home's front door a bunch of times but didn't see his wife for something like ten years, until he had stopped the flooding of the yellow river.

 

So I don't think it's so much about pinning their credibility on zero covid, but their credibility actually depending on it since the chinese idea of government includes this responsibility. I'm not saying there are no political reasons or anything like that, just that things probably aren't as simple as "what Xi wants".

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On 6/11/2022 at 7:18 PM, markhavemann said:

Something else is there also seems to be a cultural pride in controlling things like this, as well as an idea that it's the leaders' responsibility to protect people from these kind of things.

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On 6/11/2022 at 7:18 PM, markhavemann said:

I think what lots of these kinds of discussions lack is talking about what the actual Chinese people want. I think for the most part it seems that all these policies actually do reflect at least the general the feelings of the Chinese people. For lots of people stability and safety really is the absolute top priority, I think they value it on the same level as how American people value "freedom". 

 

These strike me as important insights, and not ones I have seen mentioned in the western press. 

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On 6/11/2022 at 3:14 PM, alantin said:

Opening up is pretty much off the table at-least until after the party congress sometime in the fourth quarter. Likely not this year in any case.

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Yes, it does look that way! 

 

Thank you both very much. Those are helpful replies.  

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On 6/12/2022 at 3:18 AM, markhavemann said:

I think what lots of these kinds of discussions lack is talking about what the actual Chinese people want. I think for the most part it seems that all these policies actually do reflect at least the general the feelings of the Chinese people. For lots of people stability and safety really is the absolute top priority, I think they value it on the same level as how American people value "freedom". 

 

It hasn't been perfect over here but a while ago when the western media was talking about lockdown fatigue, in China, people had been going out for meals and living mostly normal lives already for a while. I'm not really sure if vaccines and the less deadly strains of the virus should change this view, but I think most Chinese people are happy to get on their lives in a mostly normal way without any real risk of getting sick.

 

Something else is there also seems to be a cultural pride in controlling things like this, as well as an idea that it's the leaders' responsibility to protect people from these kind of things. I can't remember who it was in Chinese mythology that walked past his home's front door a bunch of times but didn't see his wife for something like ten years, until he had stopped the flooding of the yellow river.

 

So I don't think it's so much about pinning their credibility on zero covid, but their credibility actually depending on it since the chinese idea of government includes this responsibility. I'm not saying there are no political reasons or anything like that, just that things probably aren't as simple as "what Xi wants".

 

I agree with you. However, the zero-covid policy is very much driven by Xi and there seems to be a deadlock in that the infallible leaders can't change it after politicizing it for so long. I doubt anything in the current situation is something that they wanted, but rather something they now find themselves in. The relationship between the party and the people is interesting and there are a lot of books written about it. I agree that what the people want is not irrelevant, it does affect the party and historically the people have required strong leaders that show the way for the nation and protect the people from calamity. The famous "mandate of heaven". Lose the mandate, evidenced by all kinds of trouble, earthquakes, famine, overtly corruption, social unrest, etc., and there is revolution. Each nation has it's own "flavor" of what kind of rule the people expect and changing that takes generations of hard work by the nations leaders, so it is a fantasy to expect China to change in this anytime soon. There is also tremendous national pride in play, and the party has done it's best connecting that pride to the superior Chinese model of government that beat the virus with the zero covid policy while the rest of the world recklessly let people die in the effort to live with the virus.

 

The party controls the official narrative and while there are a lot of small local demonstrations around China all the time about different issues, I believe the people (at least enough of them) and the party are largely aligned to each other. At least so far that the demonstrations don't get much nationwide traction and they are usually directed at the local governments or issues, not the central government or the party. Also, everything that doesn't promote the social stability is quickly scrubbed away in order to maintain the official narrative and social stability and only accepted views are allowed in the traditional and social media. The party directs the public opinion, but sometimes it loses control of it too, especially with nationalism it seems, and it needs to ride that public opinion until it gets control of it again and usually they seem to use it to their advantage too. The power balance is however very much in favor of the party over the people so I think it would still be wrong to say that the people have chosen this closing up. Though the majority of them definitely aren't opposing it as it doesn't really affect their daily lives.

 

All in all, I don't think the closing up is something that anyone really want's either, but it is rather a side product, which really doesn't have enough negative effects on the party goals, so lifting it is is not a priority. Some may very well see keeping it as advantageous too as the geopolitical tensions have been increasing lately. It is interesting to see what kind of relaxation there is going to be after the party congress.

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Something else is there also seems to be a cultural pride in controlling things like this, as well as an idea that it's the leaders' responsibility to protect people from these kind of things.

 

Yes!  I was talking to a Chinese person living in the US, and he can't comprehend why no one in the US was fired (if not executed) for not controlling Covid better.  After all, a million people died!  Isn't that the main responsibility of leaders, to keep us safe? he thinks.

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On 6/12/2022 at 2:18 AM, markhavemann said:

For lots of people stability and safety really is the absolute top priority, I think they value it on the same level as how American people value "freedom". 

 

What else could you expect when the party has controlled the narrative for over half a century? This does clearly not boil down to "culture" (whatever that is), but to the political system in itself. Also, what the majority thinks about eliminating fundamental rights should be irrelevant to any responsible government.

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On 6/12/2022 at 4:16 AM, alantin said:

Some may very well see keeping it ("closing") as advantageous too as the geopolitical tensions have been increasing lately. It is interesting to see what kind of relaxation there is going to be after the party congress.

I had been wondering about that.  

 

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@MoshenYes!  I was talking to a Chinese person living in the US, and he can't comprehend why no one in the US was fired (if not executed) for not controlling Covid better. 

At least Mr. Trump lost the Mandate of Heaven and was not re-elected. 

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On 6/12/2022 at 5:16 PM, alantin said:

I agree with you. However, the zero-covid policy is very much driven by Xi and there seems to be a deadlock in that the infallible leaders can't change it after politicizing it for so long. I doubt anything in the current situation is something that they wanted, but rather something they now find themselves in.

This is a good point, and I'm sure it's part of it. All this testing must be expensive. My whole school gets tested once a week for free.  

 

On 6/12/2022 at 5:16 PM, alantin said:

At least so far that the demonstrations don't get much nationwide traction and they are usually directed at the local governments or issues, not the central government or the party.

also a nice point. I saw a lot of things on reddit about the recent Shanghai problem and some demonstrations, with people saying "finally the Chinese people are rising up against the CCP and the zero Covid policy", but the truth is (it seems to me) that people were protesting bad management and some low level corruption (apparently donated food was being sold instead of given to people), rather than asking for any large scale change.

 

On 6/13/2022 at 7:41 AM, Serg said:

China is about to open in a few weeks, there is a big policy change incoming 🤭

I wouldn't be surprised. They've been letting Chinese nationals come back to China the whole time, and most new covid cases are from commercial channels like imported products rather than people travelling back. I think they have gotten the quarantine system pretty much down by now. There are daily updates on wechat about how many people return to China with covid, but it never spreads from those. I do imagine that there will be a pretty serious and potentially expensive quarantine involved for foreigners coming over though. 

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On 6/13/2022 at 7:53 AM, markhavemann said:

but the truth is (it seems to me) that people were protesting bad management and some low level corruption (apparently donated food was being sold instead of given to people), rather than asking for any large scale change.

 

I agree that the protest were mostly about this management, but I definitely think there has been a big shift in public opinion about 0-covid. E.g. most videos on Douyin regarding covid will have tons of comments making fun of the current policy. This is quite different from how it was just a few months ago. People are noticeably tired of this already. 

 

I get the same feeling when talking to people in person, lots of people (Chinese) considering if they should leave China and go somewhere else. These are young professionals in SH though, so admittedly a very biased selection.

 

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On 6/12/2022 at 8:18 AM, markhavemann said:

I can't remember who it was in Chinese mythology that walked past his home's front door a bunch of times but didn't see his wife for something like ten years, until he had stopped the flooding of the yellow river.

Is it 大禹 ?

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On 6/13/2022 at 10:20 AM, suMMit said:

Is it 大禹 ?

Finally, a 有文化的人 to the rescue. Looks like you're right. 

 

"三过家门而不入"

For anyone who is interested:

https://baike.baidu.com/item/大禹治水/121970

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yu_the_Great

 

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On 6/13/2022 at 9:08 PM, markhavemann said:

Finally, a 有文化的人 to the rescue.

Haha, 大禹 just happened to be mentioned in a Chinese Breeze graded reader "The Green Phoenix 青凤“ that I read last week.

 

This is rather 可爱: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiyeE6YE4tc

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On 6/12/2022 at 5:33 AM, Moshen said:

Isn't that the main responsibility of leaders, to keep us safe? he thinks.

 

In the US? No, not really, I don't think. I don't think many Chinese really understand the US government, how its structured, how it works, or what it was really intended to accomplish. Then again, most Americans don't either. 

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On 6/14/2022 at 4:58 PM, alantin said:

For me personally the US government is as big a mystery as the Chinese one is.

I also am frequently puzzled. 

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