China under President Xi Jinping is profoundly changing its attitude to the outside world, much more than a pandemic-driven closure of the borders, says political analyst Victor Shih to CNN.
And in August, a Chinese infectious disease expert was called a “traitor” who “blindly worshiped Western ideas” for suggesting China should eventually learn to coexist with Covid. Some even accused him of colluding with foreign forces to sabotage China’s pandemic response.
While it is unclear to what extent these nationalist sentiments represent mainstream opinion, they’ve been given overriding prominence in China’s government-managed public discourse, where most liberal-leaning voices have been silenced.
Victor Shih, a China expert at the University of California, San Diego, said while Xi’s predecessors had “grudgingly tolerated” Western reporters, NGO workers and sometimes even welcomed academics to China, the current administration now views their presence as sources of undesirable influences.
And Covid measures have become a convenient way to keep them out. Since the pandemic, most academics and non-profit workers have stopped going to China due to the border restrictions and quarantine requirements, Shih said.
“This heavy filter that is applied today — and had been applied prior to the pandemic — will help filter out what (Chinese leaders) see as undesirable elements from coming into China and polluting the values of the Chinese people,” Shih said.
But even after the border reopens, it remains to be seen how the Chinese government will allow foreign visitors to return — and whether some sort of additional screening might stay in place…
“Other political parties, or even maybe Xi’s predecessors, might have seen this dramatic reduction in contact between China and the rest of the world as a big problem. But for now, the Xi administration does not seem to recognize this as a problem,” University of California’s Shih said.
“(If) China wants to persuade the world that it is a benign power … it needs to engage the world.”
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