Old video of Xi Jinping discussing pandemic strategy misleads online after zero-Covid reversal

American Age Official

An old video of Chinese President Xi Jinping discussing his government’s “flexible” approach to the pandemic has been misleadingly shared in posts after China rapidly dismantled key pillars of its zero-Covid strategy. The clip was viewed thousands of times in posts that appeared to criticise the loosening of restrictions amid a surge in Covid-19 cases in China. However, the video shows the Chinese leader speaking in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Xi’s own summary of the past three years of anti-epidemic efforts,” reads a simplified Chinese tweet shared on December 18.

The video, which has more than 12,000 views, shows Xi speaking to a group of people about China’s Covid-19 policy.

“I think we still need this,” he says in Mandarin. “This is a sign of good national governance. It can be restricted quickly when it needs to be and relaxed in an orderly manner when it needs to be. It is a kind of ability to advance and retreat freely.”

Covid-19 cases are soaring in China following the government’s sudden decision to lift years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing, with hospitals struggling, pharmacy shelves stripped bare and crematoriums across the country struggling to deal with an influx of bodies.

The end to mandatory testing has made the toll of China’s Covid surge difficult to track, with authorities admitting it was “impossible” to tally how many have fallen sick.

A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on December 20, 2022

The video was viewed more than 135,000 times in similar posts, including here, here, here and here.

Some social media users appeared to believe the footage showed Xi speaking following the lifting of Covid restrictions.

“He’s been wrong for three years, but still wants people to praise him for his wisdom,” one Twitter user commented.

“After his re-election at the 20th Congress, he did noticeably change his old inferiority complex and began to be very conceited and arrogant,” another wrote, referring to a top Communist Party meeting in October where Xi was anointed general secretary of the party for another five-year term.

However, the posts are misleading — although Xi’s recent flurry of diplomatic engagements has dominated the headlines, he has not yet commented publicly on the collapse of what was until recently a signature policy, AFP reported.

A reverse image search found the video previously published by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on April 1, 2020 on video platform Haokan.

The video is a longer version of the clip circulating in the misleading posts.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading posts (left) and CCTV’s video (right):

A screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading post (left) and CCTV’s video (right)

The headline reads in simplified Chinese: “Xi Jinping: flexibility is a sign of the country’s good governance”.

Text onscreen reads: “March 31, 2020, Hangzhou, Zhejiang: Xi Jinping inspected Hangzhou City Brain Operation Command Center”.

Screenshot of CCTV’s video

Hangzhou City Brain Operation Command Center pioneered a health code which was subsequently extended throughout the country.

The Chinese public was required to show a green health code on their phone to enter public buildings and spaces, until the scheme was reduced in December to nursing homes, medical institutions, kindergartens, middle and high schools.

Xi visited the Center on March 31, 2020 to learn about the city of Hangzhou’s use of health codes and other pandemic measures, Xinhua news agency reported on April 1, 2020.

The Hangzhou local government published a press release about Xi’s visit on April 2, 2020, and it was also covered in a separate report by CCTV.

“On the afternoon of the 31st, President Xi Jinping came to the Hangzhou City Brain Operation Command Center,” CCTV reported.

“It’s too early to relax Covid prevention and control measures. It’s better to avoid social gatherings,” it quoted Xi as saying.

He then described restrictions such as limitations on the number of diners at restaurants, before adding: “I think we still need this. This is a manifestation of the level of national governance. It can be managed quickly when it is managed and released in an orderly manner when it is released. It is a kind of ability to advance and retreat freely.”

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