US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that China’s “repressive” crackdown on protests over Covid lockdowns showed “weakness” by the communist leadership.
Blinken, in an interview with NBC News, said that people in all countries have a right to “make known their frustration” through peaceful protests.
“In any country where we see that happening and then we see the government take massive repressive action to stop it, that’s not a sign of strength, that’s a sign of weakness,” said Blinken, who was in Romania for NATO meetings.
Blinken, who plans to travel to China next year amid an easing of tensions between the United States and China, declined to weigh in on whether the protests affected the personal standing of President Xi Jinping.
Blinken said that China’s zero-Covid policy, the initial trigger for the protests, was “not something that we would do,” adding the United States has focused instead on vaccines, testing and treatment.
“China has to figure out a way forward on dealing with Covid, a way forward that answers the health needs but also answers the needs of the people,” Blinken said.
The protests, however, have grown into broader calls for political freedoms in China’s most widespread demonstrations since 1989 when the communist leadership sent in troops to crush a student-led democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.
Blinken was asked about the situation in China after an initial muted reaction from the US administration, with the White House saying that President Joe Biden was monitoring the protests.
Biden met Xi in November in Bali where the two presidents promised to look at ways to keep tensions in check between the two powers.