China's ruling Communist Party has vowed to "resolutely crackdown on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces," following the largest street demonstrations in decades staged by citizens fed up with strict anti-virus restrictions.
The statement from the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission released late on Tuesday comes amid a massive show of force by security services to deter a reoccurrence of the protests that broke out over the weekend in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and several other cities.
“We must resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces in accordance with the law, resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order and effectively maintain overall social stability," it said.
The statement also urged the government to "resolutely safeguard national security and social stability."
While it did not directly address the protests, the statement serves as a reminder of the party’s determination to enforce its rule.
The party statement was issued following an expanded Politburo leadership meeting that was called in response to the widespread protests that was sparked by stringent Covid-19 rules imposed since the pandemic started three years ago.
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also said "illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order" would not be tolerated.
On Wednesday, there were reports that residents of the Chinese manufacturing hub of Guangzhou clashed with white hazmat-suited riot police on Tuesday night.
The clashes in the southern city marked an escalation from demonstrations in the commercial hub of Shanghai, capital Beijing and other cities over the weekend in mainland China's biggest wave of protests since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago.
Police and paramilitary forces in major cities, including Beijing, continue to conduct random ID checks on individuals and searched people's mobile phones for photos, banned apps or other potential evidence that they had taken part in the demonstrations.
The number of people who have been detained at the demonstrations and in follow-up police actions is not known.
China Dissent Monitor, run by US government-funded Freedom House, estimated at least 27 demonstrations took place across China from Saturday to Monday. Australia's ASPI think tank estimated 43 protests in 22 cities.
Since the pandemic began, authorities have eased some controls and announced a new push to vaccinate vulnerable groups after the demonstrations, but maintained they would stick to the "zero-Covid" strategy.
Spike in infections
The party had already promised last month to reduce disruptions, but a spike in infections swiftly prompted party cadres under intense pressure to tighten controls in an effort to prevent outbreaks.
On Wednesday, the National Health Commission reported 37,612 cases detected over the previous 24 hours, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,233.
Xinhua reported on Wednesday that the government will ramp up vaccination among the elderly population.
Meanwhile, at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students protested over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions.
Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism including the Tiananmen protests.
Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid encouraging others by drawing attention to the scale of the protests.
Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were deleted by the party’s vast online censorship apparatus.
“Zero-Covid” has helped keep case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries, but global health experts including the head of the World Health Organization increasingly say it is unsustainable.
Beijing needs to make its approach "very targeted" to reduce economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press news agency on Tuesday.