Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says COVID protests will not shake government

  • Ai Weiwei says it will not be possible for the protests to continue
  • The police will use force to silence the protesters
  • The organization lacks organization and leadership

MONTEMOR-O-NOVO, Portugal, Nov 28 (Reuters) – Speaking from his home in Portugal, Ai Weiwei, a Chinese activist known for his art that often criticizes Beijing’s policies, said recent protests would not shake Xi Jinping’s government because the police had simply crushed them into silence.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Shanghai, Beijing and other cities in recent days to demonstrate against the COVID-19 measures and restrictions, a show of civil disobedience unprecedented since leader Xi took power.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, China says its policies are not aimed at zero cases all the time but about acting “flexibly” when cases do appear.

Sitting in his garden, Ai said it is possible that the protests will not continue – not only because the security forces will eliminate those who speak but also because the protesters themselves lack organization and leadership.

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“There is no clear political plan so it’s very easy to just arrest them and move on,” Ai told Reuters on Monday, adding that there were other “needs” in 1989 when pro-democracy protesters lined up in Beijing and around Tiananmen Square.

“Even if something happens (on the scale of Hong Kong) or on the scale of 1989 (still) it will not shake the government,” he added.

Asked who could lead the protest, Ai, who spent 81 days in detention in China in 2011, said no one could lead because the country has no “political space”.

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“For 70 years, they purged any people, intellectuals or media who would raise any question.”

While Ai said the protests would not affect the government, he said China’s ruling Communist Party was “very concerned about the rebels” and would do “everything to prevent this from happening” from internet censorship to the use of police.

The protests in China were sparked by a fire in the Xinjiang region last week that killed 10 people who were trapped in their homes. Protesters say the lockdown measures are part of the blame, although officials deny that.

Protests have spread to different cities around the world to show solidarity. On Monday evening, dozens of protesters gathered in Hong Kong’s business district, the site of anti-government protests in 2019.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry told a general briefing on Monday that China was not aware of protests abroad demanding an end to its COVID policy.

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The United States and other Western nations have supported people’s right to peaceful protest in China, but Ai pointed the finger at them for putting their economic agenda ahead of human rights.

“When we work with China, I think (for every government) the priority is to get some economic power,” he said. “You can’t blame them because they also want to live, but in doing so they lose their credibility to protect a free country or to protect democracy.

“That hurts.”

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Edited by Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Catarina’s demon

Thomson Reuters

Multimedia journalist based in Portugal reporting on politics, economics, environment and daily news. Previous experience in local journalism in the UK., founded a project telling the stories of Portuguese-speaking people living in London, and edited a youth-led news portal.


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