China will ease its COVID-19 travel restrictions today.
Following Beijing’s announcement of its plans, the EU strongly encouraged its member states to mandate pre-departure testing of passengers. The move is a bucking of China’s overtures to avoid imposing of restrictions that conflict with Beijing’s relaxation of its hardline containment policy against COVID-19, which has led to growing unrest and frustration among the Chinese public. This unrest led to the largest protests since Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The Chinese Communist Party knows it must strike a fine balance in its approach to governance. Much of China’s modern cultural thought is invested in its national social contract. Xi Jinping’s decision to relax restrictions is a concession aimed at keeping faith with societal harmony, though a secondary aim may have been to show discretion in the wake of growing international scrutiny of its crackdowns.
China responded to the EU by arguing that such measures are politically motivated and ineffective in containing COVID-19, a view that is shared by many health experts in Europe. The EU’s countermeasures will take effect tomorrow as China faces another test of its ability to coordinate its domestic agenda with its global aspirations.