IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

White House says 'everyone has the right to peacefully protest' after China Covid demonstrations intensify

People rallying against China's policy to contain Covid outbreaks clashed with security personnel in major cities over the weekend.
Protesters march for the victims o a deadly fire and rally against China's harsh Covid-19 restrictions in Beijing on Nov. 28, 2022.
Protesters march in Beijing on Monday against China's harsh Covid-19 restrictions.Noel Celis / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday issued a statement in support of peaceful protesters in China after demonstrations against the country's "zero-Covid" policy intensified this weekend.

“We’ve long said everyone has the right to peacefully protest, in the United States and around the world,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement. “This includes in the [People's Republic of China].”

"Zero COVID is not a policy we [are] pursuing here," the spokesperson said. "And as we’ve said, we think it’s going to be very difficult for the People’s Republic of China to be able to contain this virus through their zero COVID strategy."

The U.S. is focused instead on using public health tools such as encouraging the public to get updated vaccines and making testing and treatment more easily accessible, the spokesperson said.

Protests over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “zero-Covid” restrictions turned violent over the weekend in cities across China as they rallied in a widespread show of resistance to Communist Party rule that has not been seen in decades.

In the financial hub of Shanghai, which endured a grueling two-month lockdown earlier this year, video showed people being dragged, beaten and pinned to the ground by police. Crowds in other major cities clashed with security officials who made multiple arrests.

A BBC journalist, Ed Lawrence, was arrested Sunday while covering the protests in Shanghai and said he was beaten and kicked by police during his arrest, then held for several hours before being released. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian disputed the BBC’s version of events, saying Lawrence did not identify himself as a journalist before his arrest.

China’s “dynamic zero-Covid” measures, which include strict lockdowns and isolation periods and mass testing, make it an outlier among the world’s major economies, causing growing public frustration and economic pain. Though officials announced new “optimized” measures earlier this month, they are struggling to ease the burden without setting off a major exit wave.

The Chinese government argues its pandemic strategy has saved lives and is necessary to protect the fragile health care system from being overwhelmed. The latest deaths bring China’s official toll to more than 5,000, compared with more than 1 million in the United States.