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News, November 2022
While Chinese Government Clamps Down on Zero Covid Protests, it Loosens Some Pandemic Measures
November 29, 2022
Carmakers in China sideswiped by strict Covid-19 controls, with production curtailed at several plants
Voyah says 14 service centres in 16 cities including Zhengzhou and Shijiangzhuang have been forced to suspend operations Covid-19 control measures are straining supply chains and production for several carmakers in China
Daniel Ren in Shanghai
SCMP, 29 Nov, 2022
China’s carmaking sector has taken another beating from the country’s pandemic curbs, with companies based in Wuhan and Chengdu forced to halt part of production or sales due to lockdowns there.
Honda Motor, Volkswagen and Dongfeng Motor’s electric vehicle (EV) brand Voyah have been affected to varying degrees by a broken logistics network and strained supply chains, and there are no clear time frames for resuming operations, according to statements by the companies and media reports.
Voyah said in a statement that 14 service centres in 16 cities including Zhengzhou, capital of central Henan province and Shijiangzhuang, capital of northern Hebei province, have been forced to suspend operations since Sunday due to stringent pandemic curbs.
“We are unable to offer repair and maintenance services for now,” it said. “Delivery of new cars will also be delayed because of virus controls and logistics issues. We deeply apologise for the inconvenience brought to customers.”
The company’s headquarters in Wuhan, and the plants in Zhengzhou and Shijiazhuang have been hit by outbreaks of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, with the national health commission reporting record single-day infections of 38,421 on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Honda suspended its operations at a plant in Wuhan because a standstill order was issued for the area, according to a Bloomberg report, which cited the company’s spokesperson.
Elsewhere, VW has suspended operations at a joint-venture plant in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, while temporarily shutting down two of five production lines at a factory in Changchun, northeastern Jinlin province, according to a Reuters report.
Neither Honda nor VW responded to a request for comment on Tuesday.
“The resurgence in Covid-19 cases around the country may cause big damage to the automotive industry,” said Ivan Li, a fund manager at Loyal Wealth Management in Shanghai. “The government’s tax cuts are fuelling sales of vehicles at present, but a disrupted supply chain could slow growth momentum.”
Beijing halved the car purchase tax rate from 10 per cent to 5 per cent in June to boost the autos industry, which accounts for one in six urban jobs. The tax incentive is expected to result in additional sales of 1.8 million vehicles this year, according to a May research note by Cheng Siqi, an analyst with China Securities.
China’s automobile industry lost 1 million vehicles in production in April amid severe lockdown measures introduced to contain Covid-19 pandemic in Shanghai, the mainland’s “Motown” and Chuangchun, a major carmaking production base.
A strained supply chain caused the industry to lose another 400,000 vehicles in production the following month as carmakers were unable to churn out enough units to cater to market demand.
In the first five months of 2022, total vehicle sales in China slumped 12.8 per cent year on year to 7.31 million units, according to data from the China Passenger Car Association. Between June to October, an estimated 1.6 million additional cars were sold due to the tax incentives, the CPCA said.
Analysts have been warning in recent months that stringent virus controls amid Beijing’s zero-Covid goal could force more carmakers and component suppliers to suspend part of their production to keep the virus at bay.
Daniel Ren is the SCMP's Shanghai bureau chief. A Shanghai native, Daniel joined the SCMP in 2007 as a Business reporter.
China clamps down on ‘zero covid’ protests, loosens some pandemic measures
Story by Lyric Li • 3h ago React |
Small protests against China’s strict “zero covid” policy occurred in several cities Monday evening, as citizens defied a police crackdown and threats of reprisal, with Beijing blaming the demonstrations on “foreign forces” even as local authorities moved to relax some distancing measures.
China clamps down on ‘zero covid’ protests, loosens some pandemic measures
From Hangzhou in the east to Kunming in the southwest and Beijing in the north, small groups of people demonstrated by holding up blank paper — a symbol of state censorship — in solidarity with protesters in Shanghai, the first major city where the recent rallies against the zero covid measures occurred.
The protests were primarily vehicles to vent about lockdowns and commemorate people who had died in a fire in the far northwestern province of Xinjiang last week. Many Chinese believe that the zero covid policy worsened the tragedy by slowing first responders, an allegation that authorities deny. Frustrations about political oppression have also crept in, with some calling for the ouster of the ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping.
Monday evening’s demonstrations were relatively small, involving perhaps dozens of protesters. Rallies against alleged local government malfeasance are also not an uncommon sight in China — but prolonged, nationwide protests against central authorities are extremely unusual. Videos of these moments circulated widely online, even as censors made efforts to cut off access.
Local security officials, who appeared to be caught off guard when demonstrations began over the weekend, seemed more proactive in trying to stamp out Monday’s protests. In Hangzhou, home to tech giants including Alibaba, police were shown in a widely circulated video cornering a bespectacled young man and trying to grab a bouquet of chrysanthemums, a symbol of mourning, from him.Bali Drapery: Grommet Ad Blindsgalore
“Can’t I bring some flowers to the West Lake?” the man asked the officers, referring to a popular destination where some had gathered to demand the lifting of strict anti-virus measures. Security forces attempted to take the man away by force but were stopped by onlookers. The man was eventually let go.
Another clip showed a woman forcibly taken away by police in front of an upscale mall in Hangzhou. As she screamed for help, a crowd of perhaps dozens gathered, with some yelling “free her.” Authorities ordered the crowd to disperse, citing social distancing protocols.
The Washington Post was not able to immediately independently verify the authenticity of the two clips. But a subway station near the West Lake was closed Monday evening, according to Niu, a resident who spoke on the condition that only her last name be used for fear of government reprisal.
Police also stepped up patrols around the lake and conducted identity checks on people in the area, she said. “There were a lot of police cars parked around the lake,” she said. “I worry about the people who have been taken away; they were brave to speak their mind and didn’t do anything wrong.”
Loaded: 42.36% Current Time 0:04 / Duration 1:39 The Washington Post Protests erupt in China over ‘zero covid’ policy 0 View on Watch
In a possible sign that China may eventually relax its zero covid policy, which includes long lockdowns, regular mass testing and placing close contacts of coronavirus patients in centralized quarantine facilities, some local governments started loosening restrictions this week.
Public transportation in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital where the deadly blaze occurred, partially restarted Monday, while delivery services resumed Tuesday. A district in the economic hub of Guangzhou where there had recently been a spate of covid infections announced Monday that it would exempt seniors, students and people who worked from home from mass testing unless they need to enter public venues.
In Beijing, officials pledged not to lock down residential buildings for more than 24 hours at a time. And the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu called off the construction of a massive facility intended to house more than 10,000 people, in a sign that mass centralized quarantine could be on its way out.
Workers in protective gear in Beijing on Monday.
Beijing’s coronavirus-fighting policies have kept the country’s death rate low by international standards, but medical experts are increasingly questioning the sustainability of such measures amid the spread of more transmissible versions of the omicron variant. China on Tuesday said that it had logged more than 38,500 infections in the past day — an extremely high number by its levels.
China said last month that it would reduce the burden of anti-covid measures on daily life, but central authorities did not offer a road map and local officials are still expected to quickly curb widespread transmission of cases.
Beijing’s ability to meaningfully abandon restrictions is hampered by low vaccination rates among seniors and its limited emergency care capabilities. Just two-thirds of Chinese citizens older than 80 have received two dose of a vaccine and just only 40 percent of that age group has received a booster shot.
“The likelihood that the leadership … ends zero-covid in response to protests is small, both because of the precedent it would set and because ceasing efforts to contain the virus now would rapidly lead to the healthcare system to being overwhelmed,” wrote Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, a consultancy, in a Monday research note.
He added that minor concessions, such as tweaking quarantine rules, were possible.
“We have always been studying and making adjustments to protect people’s interests as much as possible and reduce the impact [of zero covid] on China’s economic and social development,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission, at a Tuesday news briefing.
The recent small signs of potential compromise coincided with large-scale censorship and fear that a harsher clampdown was on its way. There had been some online chatter about the protests over the weekend, but censors were faster at banning accounts and scrubbing posts, video clips and hashtags from major social media platforms as the week began. The phrase “blank paper” was censored after students held up empty sheets to protest restrictions on speech.
Protesters in Beijing wave blank pieces of paper in what has become a symbol against Chinese censorship.© Mark R Cristino/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Beijing will “not allow a protest movement to occupy China’s streets for any length of time. If the protests continue, a crackdown is very likely,” wrote Williams, the economist.
On Monday, Shanghai authorities set up barricades and deployed police to guard downtown intersections where protests had occurred. On an icy Monday evening in Beijing, there was a heavy police presence near two sites where demonstrations took place over the weekend.
Nationalist commentators, without presenting proof, accused protesters of colluding with hostile foreign forces.
“Whenever there are some tragedies in China, [the West] will go all the way to fan the flames and instigate Chinese people to make riots,” popular nationalist commentator Ming Jinwei wrote in a Monday post that warned of a potential color revolution. The term refers to massive anti-regime protests such as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, which many officials in Moscow and Beijing believe were directed by the West.
“They examine problems in Chinese society with a magnifying glass and would turn every fire, every traffic accident, into an attack … of China’s political system,” he said.
Chinese officials have not directly acknowledged the demonstrations, though Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a Monday briefing that there was no need for concern over the safety of residents in China. He also accused human rights activists in exile, who have stepped up their criticism in Beijing in recent days, of having “ulterior motives.”
When asked if China would consider ending the zero covid policy following widespread protests, Zhao said that Beijing would keep battling the pandemic with “optimized” measures in line with existing policy and under Communist Party leadership.
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