Chinese President Xi Jinping urges more policing as toll hits 1,500

Precautionary measures: Workers separated by partitions, as a precaution against infection, having lunch on the roof of an electronics factory in Suining, Sichuan Province

Precautionary measures: Workers separated by partitions, as a precaution against infection, having lunch on the roof of an electronics factory in Suining, Sichuan Province  

Government wants to tighten control on online media as it cracks down on those ‘spreading rumours’

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for tightened control over online discussion and increased policing to ensure “positive energy” and social stability, state media said on Saturday, as the country struggles to contain the deadly new coronavirus.

Mr. Xi’s remarks were made public as the authorities have faced rare bouts of public anger over the handling of an epidemic that has killed about 1,523 people and infected some 66,492 across the country. Outside mainland China there have been about 500 cases in some two dozen countries and territories, with four deaths - in Japan, Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, the Philippines and France.

Censors had allowed some online criticism of local officials in central Hubei — the epicentre and origin of the crisis — but calls for freedom of speech and political reform were scrubbed after the death of a whistleblowing doctor from the virus.

The government must “strengthen the management and control of online media,” and “crack down on those who seize the opportunity to create rumours” on the internet, Mr. Xi said in the February 3 speech published by state media.

Simultaneously, “it is necessary to increase use of police force and strengthen the visible use of police,” Mr. Xi said, calling for a crackdown on behaviour that “disrupts social order” including hoarding medical supplies.

Discipline by law

Mr. Xi urged party members to “dare to criticise” those who had failed to carry out the Communist Party central committee’s instructions, and warned “those who fail to perform their duties shall be punished according to discipline and law.”

Local officials in Hubei have already begun to feel the force of Mr. Xi’s orders.

On Thursday, the political chiefs of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, were sacked and replaced by Xi loyalists with security backgrounds. The province’s top two health officials have also been fired.

Mr. Xi also called for the government to emphasize effective actions it has taken and “vividly describe touching deeds” from the frontlines of the fight against the virus.

“Let positive energy fill the cyberspace from start to end,” Mr. Xi said in the speech, given earlier this month at a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s ruling council.

Mr. Xi kept a low profile in the early weeks of the crisis but has stepped up his public rhetoric in recent days on what he has called a “people’s war” against the virus.

Those returning to Beijing from the holiday have been ordered to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine to prevent the virus' spread. Many factories are yet to re-open, disrupting global supply chains for everyone from smartphone makers to car manufacturers.

While there has been some hope expressed this week that the disease may be peaking in China, numbers keep rising and a trend has been hard to discern, especially after a reclassification that widened the definition of cases.

The biggest cluster outside China has been on a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, quarantined off Japan's Yokohama. Out of about 3,700 passengers and crew on board, 285 people have tested positive and been sent to hospital.

The U.S. said on Saturday it plans to send an aircraft to pick up American passengers and take them back home where they face two weeks of isolation “out of an abundance of caution”.

‘Free wine’

Passengers on another cruise ship, which finally docked in Cambodia after being rejected by five other countries, were taking their saga in good heart.

“Everyone says 'poor you'. But there was no poor you. We had free internet and free wine. We had three-course meals. There was so much choice,” said Zahra Jennings, a retired staff nurse from Britain who had been on the MS Westerdam with more than 2,300 passengers and crew.

U.S. President Donald Trump thanked “beautiful” Cambodia for taking the castaway cruise ship in a rare message to a nation that has often been at odds with Washington.

U.S. curbs

The United States has imposed some of the toughest curbs on travellers from China, going beyond World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations and offending Beijing.

In Hong Kong, which has seen months of anti-Beijing protests, hundreds marched on Saturday to demand full closure of the border with mainland China and to oppose plans to turn some buildings into quarantine hubs. The sickness, now officially labelled COVID-19, has killed around 2% of those infected. Cases have spread faster than other respiratory viruses this century.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 4:11:39 AM |

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