XI Jinping will be ousted in a coup as he faces an unprecedented uprising more significant than Tiananmen Square, a former diplomat has warned.
Furious anti-lockdown demonstrators poured into the streets in eight cities across China, confronting riot cops and calling for the Chinese dictator to “step down” in a rare act of defiance.
Protesters in Urumqi were seen confronting officials, smashing down barriers and yelling “end the Covid lockdown” amid claims blocked fire exits trapped people in the blazing building.
As the rage spread across the country, brave demonstrators called for the downfall of Xi and the Communist Party that has ruled China with an iron fist for 73 years – criticism punishable by years in prison.
For the first time in 30 years, protesters flooded the grounds of two universities in Beijing while crowds in Shanghai chanted “down with the Chinese Communist Party”.
Such widespread protests are unprecedented since the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square that was crushed with deadly force by the army.
As the nation grows exhausted by the country’s zero-Covid rules, former diplomat Roger Garside warned “there’s no turning back” now – and cops will eventually be ordered to use force on protesters.
He told The Sun Online: “This has never happened before since the start of Communist Party rule in China in 1949.
“Even in 1989, people didn’t explicitly call for the leader to ‘step down’ or for the Communist Party to do so.
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“In making such explicitly political demands people have crossed a psychological and political red line. There will be no turning back.”
Mr Garside, an Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, said the only way China can end its draconian zero-Covid strategy is by using foreign vaccines.
But Xi will refuse as it would be “political humiliation” for him, he said.
Mr Garside said arrests might deter anti-lockdown protesters for a while – but he warned “new causes of unrest will arise”.
“The police have shown restraint so far but, at some point, they will be ordered to use force,” he said.
“Some will obey, and people will be killed. Some will disobey, and then either order will break down or Xi Jinping will be ousted in a coup.”
‘BEGINNING OF THE END’
Professor Kerry Brown, from the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, said public opinion in China “has clearly shifted” and “patience has run out” among those living in the country.
He told The Sun Online: “Chinese people in major cities at least are deeply frustrated and angry at the continuing disruption to their lives, the lack of a furlough scheme and the economic impact of the lockdowns.
“About a year or so ago, I think the government response was popular, people were very fearful of the virus, and they wanted to see concerted action.
“But clearly their patience has run out… it is clear that the current policies are unsustainable.”
But Professor Brown said it’s likely Xi will “try to quash this unrest, address some of the concerns, and still be in power after all of this”.
“Otherwise, we are looking at bedlam and chaos,” he said.
Yet China commentator Matthew Henderson also warned the uprising against the Communist regime could be “the beginning of the end for Xi”.
He said “pressure has been building for months” after nearly three years of snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing – and a tanking economy.
“A tipping point seems to have been reached at which the citizens of China have had enough,” he wrote in The Telegraph.
Hundreds of riot cops descended on protesters, with some officers violently dispersing the crowds with tear gas.
Many protesters waved blank sheets of paper in the air in a symbolic protest against censorship – with some now referring to the demonstrations as the “white paper revolution”.
Protesters and cops clashed in Shanghai on Sunday night as the anti-lockdown protests escalated and a BBC journalist was beaten and kicked when several police officers arrested him.
Chinese people in major cities at least are deeply frustrated and angry at the continuing disruption to their lives
Professor Kerry Brown
The corporation said it was “very concerned” after cameraman Edward Lawrence was dragged to the ground by cops.
Footage shows at least four officers bundling him to the floor in cuffs in Shanghai before picking him up and leading him away.
Another clip shows him being walked away from the protest as he shouted to a friend: “Call the consulate now.”
Mr Lawrence was held for several hours before being released and is thought to have been targeted because he filmed the uprising.
But Chinese officials bizarrely claimed they arrested him “for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd”, the BBC said.
Beijing also claimed the BBC reporter “didn’t identify himself as a journalist”.
A Downing Street spokesman said the UK Government is in touch with both Mr Lawrence and the local authorities in China.
“We urge the Chinese authorities to respect those who decide to express their views about the current situation,” they said.
“Freedom to protest must be respected. On the BBC journalist, the arrest of this journalist who was simply going about their work is shocking and unacceptable.
“Journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation.”
Footage showed other protesters behind shoved to the floor by officers and handcuffed before being bundled into waiting vans.
Demonstrators clambered onto police cars and others chanted “we don’t want PCR tests”.
A shocking video appeared to show a police officer pushing a woman against a shop window before detaining her.
Authorities in Shanghai have now put in barriers around a city centre area in an attempt to stop protesters taking to the streets again on Monday.
Elsewhere, protesters in the southwestern city of Chengdu took to the streets chanting: “No lockdown but freedom!”
Similar protests were also reported in the northwestern city of Xian, the southern city of Haikou, the central city of Wuhan and the eastern city of Hangzhou.
Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 student protests, wrote on Facebook: “From yesterday to tonight, from Beijing to Chengdu, from Shanghai to Wuhan, mass protests of varying sizes have broken out in many cities, and all have political demands.”
Should Xi Jinping mobilise the military, the fall of the Chinese Communist Party, which we think would be far off, could happen quickly
He said “a nationwide public revolt is already happening”.
“But, if they use a violent crackdown policy or even open fire, a major event altering the world will happen,” he added.
“Should Xi Jinping mobilise the military, the fall of the Chinese Communist Party, which we think would be far off, could happen quickly.”
The anger has even spread to the UK as up to 300 people gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in London.
The possibility of more protests is unclear as government censors have been scrubbing the internet of videos and messages supporting the demonstrations.
But Amnesty International has urged Beijing to “let people express their thoughts freely and protest peacefully without fear of retaliation”.
Hana Young, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, said: “These unprecedented protests show that people are at the end of their tolerance for excessive Covid-19 restrictions.
“The Chinese government must immediately review its Covid-19 policies to ensure that they are proportionate and time-bound.
“All quarantine measures that pose threats to personal safety and unnecessarily restrict freedom of movement must be suspended.”
She added: “It is virtually impossible for people in China to protest peacefully without facing harassment and prosecution.
“Authorities have shown zero tolerance to opposition, especially in the last ten years under President Xi, but this has not stopped the protests.
“Instead of penalising the people, the government should listen to their calls.”
On Monday, Beijing accused “forces with ulterior motives” for linking the fire in Urumqi to Covid measures – saying local authorities had “made clear the facts and refuted this information and smears”.
China’s state media has largely ignored the widespread unrest.