White House slams China’s COVID policies and says people have ‘right to protest peacefully’

The White House on Monday criticized China’s strategy to contain the coronavirus, saying people there have a “right to protest peacefully,” though its comments were particularly dovish at a time when it’s trying to strengthen ties with Beijing .

The comments follow the most significant demonstrations in China in decades, when protesters in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere challenged police on the streets over the weekend, with some even calling for the resignation of China’s President Xi Jinping.

“We have long said that everyone has the right to protest peacefully, in the United States and around the world,” said a White House National Security Council spokesman, who asked not to be identified. “This includes in the PRC.”

The speaker used the acronym for China’s official name People’s Republic of China.

People chant slogans as they gather on a street in Shanghai November 27, 2022, where protests against China’s zero Covid policy took place the night before after a deadly fire broke out in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region.

Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration has stressed the need to manage the United States’ strategic relationship with China, which it described this year as “the sole competitor of the United States with the intent, and increasingly the ability, to transform the international order.”

Biden has spoken to China’s Xi half a dozen times since taking office, most recently in person – for the first time since both became president – at a summit in Indonesia this month.

China’s continued strategy of locking down large parts of its cities and subjecting residents to stringent testing and restrictions stands in stark contrast to how the United States and much of the rest of the world is handling COVID, which has now largely returned to normal life living with the pandemic .

PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and China's President Xi Jinping (L) meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, November 14, 2022.

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and China’s President Xi Jinping (L) meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, November 14, 2022.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Since the Omicron wave subsided last winter, Biden has pursued a strategy that avoids large-scale lockdowns or mandatory restrictions on Americans. A significant portion of the American population is now vaccinated against the virus, and the country has increasingly prioritized its economic recovery.

In September, he said in an interview that the pandemic was “over”.

PHOTO: Demonstrators march along a street during a rally for the victims of a deadly fire as well as a protest against China's tough Covid-19 restrictions in Beijing, November 28, 2022.

Demonstrators march along a street in Beijing November 28, 2022 during a rally for the victims of a deadly fire as well as a protest against China’s tough Covid-19 restrictions.

Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

dr Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that a better strategy would be to “build popular immunity by getting people vaccinated,” as the United States has been doing.

The spokesman also said it was “very difficult” for China to contain COVID with its current strategy.

“I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for China to contain this through its zero-COVID strategy,” Jha said in an interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz. “I would recommend that their strategy is to ensure everyone is vaccinated, especially their elderly. That’s the way out of this virus in my opinion. Lockdown and zero-COVID will be very difficult to sustain.”

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