The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has eased up its zero-COVID policy, but is also using the power of surveillance technology to squash dissent. While Beijing has relieved some of the pressure driving the nationwide protest movement in China, its surveillance state continues gathering information on those who stood up to the government’s lockdown. This week’s protests are being called the biggest wave of civil disobedience since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. “I can’t underscore enough how much bravery it takes for Chinese people to take to the streets,” said Olivia Enos of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation. The government has announced it’s easing some COVID-19 restrictions, with indoor dining resuming, and shopping malls reopening. Some analysts believe the CCP wanted to relieve pressure building from protests before they spun out of control. However, the surveillance state has kept a close eye on potential dissidents.
“The CCP is notorious for using technology to expedite its undermining its freedom and human rights in China,” Enos said. “One particular application would mark activities as suspicious, that are as innocuous as exiting out your back door rather than your front door. Those types of suspicions could be grounds for being sent to political re-education camps.” Patrick Cronin at the Hudson Institute says the Chinese government seeks to identify the protestors – even as video of demonstrations spread throughout the country and the world. “The gathering of information continues by Beijing,” Cronin said. “The leaking of Telegram, Instagram, and WeChat videos are spreading and information is permeating China. I think this is why it’s a threat to the CCP.” The protests come at the same time as the death of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who led the country out of isolation after Tiananmen Square and supported economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth.
“Any praise of Jiang Zemin is a threat to Xi Jinping, who has just come out of the party congress where he gathered all titles and all power,” said Cronin. “They’ll have the flags fly at half-mast at Embassy and government buildings until a funeral. Then they’ll try and tramp down any praise of him, less it does something to Xi Jinping.” China’s communist government has long prepared for protests by building up its security forces. Now the government is even stronger, thanks to the growing power of its surveillance and censorship technology.
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