HONG KONG — Protests against China’s strict Covid-zero policy and curbs on freedoms have spread to at least a dozen cities around the world in a show of solidarity with China’s rare displays of defiance over the weekend. of week.
Dissidents and expatriate students staged vigils and small-scale protests in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney, according to a Reuters tally.
In most cases dozens of people attended the protests, though some drew more than 100, the tally showed.
The meetings are a rare case of Chinese people uniting in anger at home and abroad.
The protests on the mainland were sparked by a fire in China’s Xinjiang region last week that killed 10 people who were trapped in their apartments. Protesters said the lockdown measures were partly to blame, though officials denied this.
On Monday night, dozens of protesters gathered in Hong Kong’s central business district, the scene of sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations in 2019.
Dozens of students also gathered on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong to mourn those who died in Xinjiang, according to online video footage.
The White House National Security Council said in a statement that the United States believed it would be difficult for China “to control this virus through its zero-COVID strategy,” adding that “everyone has the right to protest peacefully, here in the United States.” United States and throughout the world. world. This includes in the [People’s Republic of China].”
UN Human Rights Office spokesman Jeremy Laurence, in an email on Monday, urged “the authorities to respond to the protests in accordance with international human rights law and standards.”
Laurence added that allowing broad debate across society could “help shape public policy, ensure it is better understood and ultimately more effective.”
Since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago, the authorities have clamped down on dissent, tightening controls on civil society, the media and the Internet.
But a strict policy aimed at stamping out Covid with lockdowns and quarantines has become a lightning rod of frustrations. While it has kept China’s death toll far lower than many other countries, it has come at the cost of long periods of home confinement for millions and damage to the world’s second-largest economy.
However, Chinese officials say it must be kept to save lives, especially among the elderly, given their low vaccination rates.
Some protesters abroad said it was their turn to shoulder some of the burden their friends and family had been bearing.
“It is what I must do. When I saw so many Chinese citizens and students taking to the streets, I feel like they have taken on much more than we have,” said graduate student Chiang Seeta, one of the organizers of a rally in Paris on Sunday that drew about 200 people. .
“Now we are showing them support from abroad,” Chiang said.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told a regular briefing on Monday that China was not aware of any overseas protests calling for an end to the zero-Covid policy.
When asked about the protests at home, the spokesperson said the question did not “reflect what really happened” and said China believed the fight against Covid would be successful with the leadership of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the cooperation of the people. .
It has been common in recent years for overseas Chinese students to rally in support of their government against its critics, but anti-government protests have been rare.
Outside the Pompidou Center in Paris, some protesters brought flowers and lit candles for those killed in the Xinjiang fire.
Some blamed Xi and the Communist Party and called for his removal.
The challenge to Xi has become increasingly public after a dissident hung a banner on a Beijing bridge last month ahead of a Communist Party congress, criticizing Xi for clinging to power and the zero-covid policy.
Some 90 people gathered in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest train stations, on Sunday, including a university student from Beijing who said any protest in China against Covid rules would inevitably blame the Communist Party.
“At the center of this is China’s system,” said the student, who asked to be identified only as Emmanuel.
But some protesters were uncomfortable with more belligerent slogans.
An organizer of a protest scheduled for later Monday at Columbia University in New York, who asked to be identified as Shawn, said she would steer clear of sensitive topics such as the status of Taiwan and the mass internment of ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
“We know that it can alienate a lot of people,” said Shawn, who is from the Chinese city of Fuzhou.