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By Sebastian Smith and Beiyi Seow
US President Joe Biden is closely monitoring unrest in China by protesters demanding an end to Covid lockdowns and greater political freedoms, the White House said Monday, as smaller demonstrations spilled over outside the country. world news
The comments came after hundreds of people took to the streets in China’s major cities over the weekend, in a rare outpouring of public frustration that spread to international Chinese-speaking communities as well.
“He’s monitoring this. We all are. So yes, the president is certainly staying mindful,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Kirby would not describe Biden’s reaction to the demonstrators’ demands, saying: “The president’s not going to speak for protesters around the world. They’re speaking for themselves.”
But he stressed the US support for the demonstrators’ rights.
“People should be allowed the right to assemble and to peacefully protest policies or laws or dictates that that they take issue with,” Kirby said.
“We’re watching this closely, as you might expect we would,” he added.
Earlier Monday, the State Department suggested that the United States viewed China’s Covid lockdown policies as excessive.
“We think it’s going to be very difficult for the People’s Republic of China to be able to contain this virus through their zero-Covid strategy,” a department spokesperson said.
Discontent has been brewing for months in China over its harsh coronavirus control measures, with lengthy quarantines, localized lockdowns and travel restrictions pushing many to the brink.
Outside the country, Chinese-speaking communities including international students came together in vigils to mark the lives lost to zero-Covid as well — with the latest gatherings sparked by a deadly fire in Urumqi city this month.
In Los Angeles, over 100 people gathered outside the Chinese Consulate General on Sunday night with candles and fresh flowers, attendees told AFP.
Photos and videos showed the group on the sidewalk singing, to mourn the people who died when the blaze ripped through a residential building in Urumqi, capital of northwestern Xinjiang.
Officials said 10 people were killed, and many blamed Covid lockdowns in the city for hampering rescue efforts.
“The atmosphere was mostly filled with anger, sadness and a little frustration, in solidarity with protesters in mainland China,” said Michael Luo, a 25-year-old graduate student.
He described the event as a “leaderless movement” and added that many attendees appeared to be Chinese international students, in a “very peaceful” gathering.
Another attendee who declined to be named, also 25, said he was very moved to see that so many people were willing to step out for the vigil.
“I hope we can awaken our compatriots within the country, for them to pay attention to institutional problems and the interests of vulnerable groups,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Washington, around 25 members of the Uyghur community gathered Monday outside the State Department to call on the US and other democracies to apply further pressure on Beijing.
“We want them to issue a formal statement condemning the loss of lives, Uyghur lives, and to call for full transparency on the real number of deaths that occurred,” said Salih Hudayar, a Uyghur-American who campaigns for Xinjiang independence.
Referring to protests in China, Hudayar told AFP he was “quite surprised that they were able to pour out onto the streets and demonstrate, and at least voice their anger.”
“As Uyghurs, we can’t do that. Our people are simply too afraid,” he said.
“We’re hoping that the international community supports these protestors in demanding accountability from the Chinese government,” he added.
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