December 9, 2022

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iPhone Factory Protest Challenges China’s ‘Zero Covid’ Rules

2 min read

In an iPhone factory in central China, thousands of workers clashed with riot police and tore down barricades.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, protesters broke out of locked-down buildings to confront health workers and ransack food provisions.

And online, many Chinese raged at the authorities after the death of a 4-month-old girl, whose father said access to medical treatment was delayed because of Covid restrictions.

As China’s harsh Covid rules extend deep into their third year, there are growing signs of discontent across the country. For China’s leader, Xi Jinping, the unrest is a test of his precedent-breaking third term in power and underscores the urgent political question of how he can lead China out of the Covid era.

The rare displays of defiance over the past two weeks are the most visible signs of frustration and desperation with the lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing that have upended everyday life. The anger, combined with outbreaks of Covid across the country that have driven cases to an all-time high, augurs a dark winter ahead.

Earlier this month, officials said they would adjust Covid restrictions to limit the impact the disruptions have had on the economy and government resources. The latest surge in cases has called that pledge into question, with many officials falling back on familiar heavy-handed measures to try to stop the spread of the virus.

Whether Mr. Xi can find a middle ground will reflect on China’s status as the world’s factory floor and a major driver of global economic growth. Some multinational companies are already looking to expand production elsewhere.

“What we’re witnessing at Foxconn is the bankruptcy of ‘the China model,’” said Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, referring to the Taiwanese operator of the plant in central China that produces half of the world’s iPhones. “It’s the collapse of China’s image as a production powerhouse, as well as China’s relationship to globalization.”

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