So far, the Biden administration has limited its public comments on the protests to expressions of skepticism about the zero-Covid policy and its support for the right to peaceful protest. During a briefing with reporters on Monday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States does not have a finer sense of insight than what already exists in the public sphere. .
However, communications show that the United States is collecting reports from the ground and actively assessing the situation in cities across China. The report also offers the first detailed look at the administrations’ thoughts on the protests and the extent to which the United States thinks they could form the basis of a movement.
The NSC did not respond to a request for comment.
Protests in China began on Friday after the belated response to a deadly fire at an apartment building in the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang sparked allegations that zero-Covid restrictions had blocked access firefighters. Public anger at the policy that imposes relentless testing and lockdowns to contain outbreaks has peaked in recent months and has prompted some of those who have participated in recent protests to demand Xi’s resignation. By early Tuesday, police had largely dispersed the crowd.
US officials believe Chinese authorities may be instituting Covid policy changes to appease protesters, communications say. Some adjustments to the zero-Covid policy are already underway. Beijing officials said on Monday they would no longer block access to housing compounds where infections are detected.
However, law enforcement reprisals against protesters are reportedly already underway. In Hangzhou and Shanghai, police have shifted from monitoring protesters to detaining them. Police have also erected high barriers on some streets in Shanghai to deter protesters from returning.
Just in the last 48 hours [theres been] a very strong security presence here in Beijing and other major cities in China, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said in a video presentation from Beijing at a Chicago Council on Global Affairs event on Tuesday. And you saw varying degrees of police response over the weekend in some cities a heavy hand and in other cities not so much.
US officials also received reports that police rounded up people and questioned them about their participation in the protests, according to a communications section.
Although fears of widespread violence have so far not materialized, Beijing is also likely deploying stealthier high-tech tools to identify and detain protesters in cities including Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu and Xian, according to reports from US officials. This includes mobile phone geolocation tracking and facial recognition technology deployed through China’s extensive network of closed-circuit security cameras.
This is likely just the start of a protracted campaign by Chinese security forces to identify and punish those who took part in the protests. The Chinese government refrains from commenting directly on the protests or the police response to them. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday denied knowledge of protesters demanding Xi’s resignation. On Tuesday, Zhao hesitated to answer a question about the protests, pausing at the podium for about a minute before telling the Reuters reporter that his question did not reflect what had actually happened.
But Xi’s national security and intelligence chief Chen Wenqing issued an implied warning aimed at stifling future protests. Chinese police will resolutely strike hard against infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces, as well as illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order, Chen said at a meeting on Tuesday.
The Chinese Communist Party aims to quell protests before they reach a critical mass that could pose a threat to its regime, communications said. This strategy reflects lessons learned from the massive pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989 that ended in the murder of around 10,000 people by heavily armed troops and those that swept through Hong Kong from 2019 to 2020. .
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.
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