Strict lockdowns, mass trials and strict border controls left the virus behind for two years and caused relatively few deaths in the world’s most populous countries.
Although widespread in most parts of the Western world, China’s “dynamic zero-covid” system was retained as a symbol of shir intelligent leadership, and last year marked the centenary of the ruling Communist Party.
The dazzling television specials and orchestrated shows put Shike at the forefront of the interior, intelligent and a complete guide to a Chinese success story.
But as he bids for an unprecedented third term in power at the Party Congress this autumn, a virus wave driven by the Omicron variant is raising awkward, unexpected questions.
Hundreds of people have died, mainly in Shanghai, where the population collapsed in a lockdown that partially relaxed after about two months, according to official figures.
Beijingers fear they could be the next, when economic dynamos from Jilin to Shenzhen have been jammed by restrictions and the economy has lost its puff.
Vivien Shu, a professor in the Department of China Studies at Oxford University, told AFP that the leadership’s indifference “now puts China’s performance at risk of becoming not only stubborn, but dangerously uncivilized and intelligent.”
Nevertheless, Xi says the country should “indefinitely” follow the zero-covid, insisting that China’s life is more valuable than economic suffering.
But the official implementation of the virus control has sparked outrage and ridicule, especially in Shanghai, where mock memes have been ripped across the Internet and quarrels with hazmat-clad officials have taken to the streets.
Hundreds of students gathered last week at Beijing’s elite Peking University to protest the Kovid rule – the birthplace of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
But Shi is now betting too much on Zero-Covid to back down, experts say.
“Challenging this policy means challenging it,” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
This is an important year for Shir.
The Chinese establishment is expected to cover him as party leader for a third term when they meet to elect the country’s top decision-makers at the 20th Party Congress in Beijing.
The sudden unveiling of Beijing’s Kovid narrative presents a challenge, with experts saying its bid to rule China indefinitely is unlikely to derail.
“He has already consolidated his power base through anti-corruption and other campaigns,” he said.
The top priority is to maintain stability in the race for Congress, he added.
By increasing the credibility of Zero-Kovid, China has so far escaped death that has wounded most other major countries.
Top Leaders – Significantly
Li Keqiang – The Covid-19 is moving forward to ensure that the economic pull of control is temporary.
On Wednesday, Lee said local governments should raise their “urgency” to address the economic woes, just days after the country posted its lowest retail sales and factory output.
Its prominence has fueled speculation of a rift or challenge to Shir’s authority from party factions dissatisfied with the virus-driven recession.
Others are wary of reading too much of the information spun-fed to the public through the secrecy and storytelling of the Communist Party.
Joseph Torrizian, an expert on elite politics at American University, said, “Lee may have been given the power by Shi himself to revise a course.”
The zero-covid policy has a strong political dimension.
Officials have been fired or reprimanded for failing to control the virus as party carriers rely on success in curbing the outbreak and Shi’s authority extends across the country.
Shanghai’s chaotic lockdown has called into question the fate of Communist Party Secretary Li Qiang, who has long been seen as the top pick for the premiere after his retirement.
But “as long as Xi is in office and has sufficient political power, there is a good chance that Li Qiang will join the Politburo’s standing committee,” analysts at Sinoinsider Consulting wrote, referring to a select group of top Chinese leaders.
Beijing observers say the ripples of the split and the behind-the-scenes moves are easily reversed, but not always wrong.
“Like most governing parties worldwide, the CCP, naturally and consistently, works very hard to present itself as fully united with the cause,” Shu said.
“And like most of the ruling parties in the world, the CCP is almost always in reality … obsessed with very consequential internal differences over party policy.”
With Shike casting in zero-covid, experts say it’s hard to see how he can abandon the policy without some loss of political capital.
However, there are still a few months left in the Congress and it is too early to calculate the loss of the most powerful leader in China after Mao.
“It’s hard to judge whether the elite of the top team have a different view of zero-covid,” Torizian said.
“Chinese politics is not a competition for popularity,” he added.