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iPhone Factory Protest Challenges China’s ‘Zero Covid’ Rules


At an iPhone factory in central China, thousands of workers clashed with riot police and demolished barricades.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, protesters stormed out of blockaded buildings to confront medical workers and ransacked food supplies.

And online, many Chinese have resented the authorities after the death of a 4-month-old baby girl, whose father said access to medical treatment was delayed because of Covid restrictions.

As China’s harsh Covid rules stretch into their third year, there are growing signs of discontent across the country. For China’s leader, Xi Jinping, the unrest is a test of his unprecedented third term in power and highlights the pressing political question of how he can lead. China is out of the Covid era.

The rare expressions of defiance over the past two weeks are the clearest sign of frustration and despair with lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing that have turned daily life upside down. Anger, combined with an outbreak of Covid across the country have pushed cases to an all-time high, heralding a dark winter ahead.

Earlier this month, officials said they would adjust Covid restrictions to limit the impact of the disruption on the economy and government resources. The latest surge in cases has cast that commitment into doubt, with many officials reverting to familiar heavy-handed measures to try to contain the spread of the virus.

Whether Mr. Xi can find a middleman will reflect China’s position as the world’s factory and key driver of global economic growth. Some multinational companies have been looking for ways expand production to other places.

“What we are seeing at Foxconn is the bankruptcy of the ‘Chinese model’,” said Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based political analyst, referring to the Taiwanese operator of the factory in Beijing. central China, where half of the world’s iPhones are made. “It’s the demise of China’s image as a manufacturing power, as well as China’s relationship with globalization.”

Many will be watching to see if the recent chaos at Foxconn’s factory spreads elsewhere. Even before riots broke out at the factory this week, Apple warned that a poorly organized blockade there would affect its sales. Analysts have been predicting longer wait times to buy the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max over the holidays.

“If the government continues with its Covid-free policy, Foxconn will be just the beginning. There is Foxconn today, but other factories will face the same situation,” said Li Qiang, founder and chief executive officer of China Labor Watch, a Chinese labor rights group based in China. in New York, said.

Foxconn workers have criticized the delay in paying bonuses as well as the Taiwanese assembler’s failure to properly isolate new workers from those who tested positive. New hires were recently recruited after thousands of workers left the Foxconn factory last month because of the covid epidemic.

From Tuesday night until early Wednesday morning, thousands of workers clashed with riot police and paramedics, according to four workers who spoke to The Times. Protesters destroyed barricades, stole food supplies and threw pieces of fences at authorities.

“We protested all day, from morning to night,” said Han Li, a new worker from Zhengzhou who joined the protest. He said he had felt cheated, and that the bonuses and living conditions at the factory were different from what he had been promised. Mr. Han said he had seen workers beaten and injured.

Videos that Foxconn workers shared with The Times show thousands of workers banging and hurling steel bars at police wearing riot gear and protective clothing. One video, shot at dawn, shows the consequences clearly: A worker lies motionless on the curb as a group of security personnel trampled and kicked him. Another was sitting on the street with a bloody sweater and a scarf wrapped around his head.

In a statement, Foxconn attributed the delayed bonuses to a “technical error” in its recruitment system. Regarding the violence, it vowed to work with employees and the government to “prevent similar accidents from happening again.”

An Apple spokesperson told the Times that Apple team members in Zhengzhou are “reviewing the situation” and are working with Foxconn “to ensure their employees’ concerns are addressed.”

On Wednesday night, Foxconn promised to pay $1,400 to workers who wanted to quit, providing them with free transportation home.

“It’s all tears,” Mr Han said on Thursday. “Now I just want to get the compensation and go home.”

In a way, China’s struggles are Xi’s own creation. China has adhered to harsh “Covid-free” policies aimed at eliminating Covid cases, even as its vaccination efforts have slowed. For three years, Beijing has propagated in favor of strict controls, arguing that it is the only way to save lives. It also describes the terrifying consequences of the virus’ uncontrolled spread in much of the rest of the world.

At the same time, many others have questioned the necessity of the lockdown. This week, as millions of Chinese tuned in to watch the World Cup in Qatar, they witnessed maskless crowds cheering on their favorite teams. Chinese social media users have posted messages expressing irony and envy, as they compare their reclusive lives to noisy celebrations on TV.

Mr. Xi, one of the people of China the most powerful leader in decades, used harsh censorship and harsh punishments to silence its critics. That makes public discontent particularly prominent, such as in Guangzhou last week, when crowds of migrant workers staged a powerful protest after being detained for more than three weeks. .

In the blockaded Haizhu district, home to about 1.8 million people, workers, many of them long and poorly paid work in Guangzhou’s textile industry, Rushed in the Street to protest food shortages. They broke down fences and barricades, and videos circulating online showed another confrontation between residents and police.

As cases continued to rise, government pandemic preparedness resources – including food, hospital beds and isolation facilities – were in some places depleted, forcing workers to sleep on the streets or , in Haizhu’s case, in a tunnel, the workers said.

People have also been angered by reports of deaths due to delays in medical care due to Covid restrictions. Earlier this month, the death of a 3-year-old boy in the city of Lanzhou after coronavirus restrictions prevented him from being taken to hospital immediately caused a wave of grief and anger as well as views New scrutiny of “Covid-free” costs. .”

A similar outcry erupted online last week following the death of a 4-month-old baby girl whose father took to Weibo, a Chinese social media similar to Twitter, to describe describe delays in emergency response. Due to Covid protocols, dispatchers refused to send an ambulance, and when one arrived, responders refused to take his daughter to the hospital. In total, it took her 12 hours to get help.

“I hope the relevant departments will intervene, investigate the series of loopholes in disease prevention, inaction and irresponsibility, and demand justice for us ordinary people,” Li Baoliang said. , the baby’s father wrote. On Sunday, authorities released the results of their investigation into the incident. While the government expressed condolences to the family, it blamed the tragedy on individual medical staff, who it saw as a weak sense of responsibility.

Beneath Mr. Li’s online complaint, many pointed to the harm caused by policies designed to protect the public.

“What is taking people’s lives? Is it Covid? Ask a commenter.

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