Xi says China in new phase of Covid-19 fight, warns of challenges

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President Xi Jinping said China has entered a new phase in its fight against the coronavirus and tough challenges remain, his most frank public comments on the reversal of the zero-Covid policy that has resulted in nationwide outbreaks and tested the health system and economy.

“Following a science-based and targeted approach, we have adapted our Covid response in light of the evolving situation, to protect the life and health of the people to the greatest extent possible,” Xi said in his annual New Year Eve speech on Saturday.

On Friday, Xi made his first comments on the zero-Covid policy since his government took its first easing steps on Dec 7. He said the strategy was “optimized” to protect people’s lives and minimize economic costs.

China’s sudden exit from zero-Covid, which for almost three years had required mass testing, snap lockdowns and mostly closed borders, has sparked a surge of infections.

“With extraordinary efforts, we have prevailed over unprecedented difficulties and challenges, and it has not been an easy journey for anyone,” Xi said, in what seems to be a rare acknowledge of the hardships the Chinese people endured during the punishing lockdowns, as well as in the rapid spread of Covid-19.

The country is moving into a new phase of Covid-19 control, Xi said, calling on the public to have patience. “Let’s make an extra effort to pull through, as perseverance and solidarity mean victory,” he said, adding the “light of hope is right in front of us.”

China’s economy has “enjoyed sound development,” Xi said. Gross domestic product exceeded 120 trillion yuan (US$915 billion) this year, according to Xi, suggesting the economy grew at least 4.4 percent in 2022. Analysts had forecast growth to slow to 3 percent this year.

The president had hoped 2022 would be a celebratory year for him, one that allowed him to secure a third term in power at a Communist Party congress in October. Yet more than a month later his government faced the most widespread protests in decades as public anger over the harsh zero-Covid strategy boiled over.

Without referring to the protests, Xi said in his New Year speech that “it is only natural” for the country’s 1.4 billion people to have “different concerns” and “different views” on some issues. “What matters is that we build consensus through communication and consultation,” he said.

China also faces challenges in its relationship with the US, despite Xi and President Joe Biden taking steps to ease tensions when they met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit last month in Indonesia.



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