March 17 2022 CCP Politburo Standing Committee meeting
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March 17 2022 CCP Politburo Standing Committee meeting

As China encounters a surge of COVID-19 across many cities, the Politburo Standing Committee convened to determine the country’s pandemic prevention strategy.

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The Politburo Standing Committee met on Thursday, March 17, to discuss China’s COVID-19 strategy. Here are three key points to note:

First and foremost, the meeting gave no indication that China will change its strategy from zero-COVID to “living with the virus” in the near term. At the Politburo Standing Committee meeting, Xi said that China would stick with the zero-COVID strategy, stressing that “victory comes from perseverance”.

There is palpable tension between socio-economic development and the zero-COVID strategy. But by all indications, we are not yet near the tipping point for the Chinese leadership to move China towards a “living with the virus” approach like most other major countries.

Indeed, given the importance of the upcoming 20th National Party Congress (probably in October or November) to the Party leadership, Beijing is unlikely to loosen its stringent measures until at least the end of the year.

Second, the Politburo Standing Committee had some tough language for local officials: any Party and state official failing in their COVID-19 prevention and control duties may be immediately investigated and held accountable.

Local officials are already under heavy pressure from Beijing to implement stringent measures. They must contain the virus while minimizing social and economic fallout. In January, authorities in Xi’an imposed a city-wide lockdown. Cases of food shortages and people prevented from seeking medical care led to public outcry. A dozen officials in Xi’an were sacked due to this debacle, highlighting the pressures and stakes for local officials.

Third, Xi stated during the meeting that China’s “world-leading” economic and epidemic control performance demonstrates the “notable advantages” of China’s political system with the Party at its helm. Chinese state media has been pushing this system-superiority narrative for some time, including by juxtaposing western failings with Chinese successes.

China’s COVID response, therefore, is considered by Chinese leaders and a portion of the Chinese public through the frame of ideological and international competition, and nationalist ambitions. And this is one added political driver that makes Chinese leaders less likely to risk “living with the virus” any time soon.

All in all, this Politburo Standing Committee meeting shows the Party leadership continued support of the zero-COVID strategy and gives no indication a course change is on the horizon.

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