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China’s Xi Jinping Provides Rare Acknowledgment of Covid-19 Policies’ Toll

SINGAPORE—China’s leader

Xi Jinping

offered a rare acknowledgment of the difficulties that three years of pandemic controls—which were abruptly lifted this month—have imposed on the Chinese population. He called for more determination and promised better times ahead.

“It has not been an easy journey for anyone. Everyone is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us,” Mr. Xi said during his annual New Year’s Eve speech to the nation on Saturday.

Earlier this month, China quickly dismantled many of the key elements of the Covid-19 prevention regime that has governed daily life for China’s people over the past three years, including mass testing, lockdowns and quarantines. This week, authorities said they would remove many of the last remaining restrictions, including those governing international travel.

In a tacit acknowledgment of previous protests sparked by China’s stringent Covid-19 restrictions in late November, Xi Jinping struck a comforting tone by admitting the existence of diverse public opinions and calling for unity among Chinese people.

Leader Xi Jinping said in his his New Year’s Eve speech on Saturday that China’s economy was doing well.



Photo:

Ju Peng/Zuma Press

“China is such a big country that different people have different demands and also have different views on the same matter,” Mr. Xi said, adding that “this is normal, and consensus must be built through communication and consultation.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Xi told visiting European officials that the protests were mainly created by students and reflected frustration about Covid-related restrictions in the past three years.

As China has lifted those measures, tens of millions of Chinese are thought to have been infected with Covid-19, leading to shortages of antiviral drugs and basic fever medicines, while swamping hospital emergency rooms and crematoria across the country. The economy has taken a blow as sick workers bring factory and service-sector activity to a halt.

In an editorial this week, the Communist Party-owned tabloid Global Times described the current wave of infections as “a short period of imperfection” in China’s three-year-long fight against Covid-19. “By the end of 2022, there are problems and imperfections. But China has done relatively the best in battling the virus,” the editorial read.

As China reopens after nearly three years of isolation, the U.S. and several other countries will require travelers to show a negative Covid-19 test. WSJ explains why some pandemic restrictions are back and what they mean for people traveling to and from China. Photo: Nicola Marfisi/Avalon via ZUMA Press

Mr. Xi, in his New Year’s Eve speech, described the policy shifts as an attempt to adapt to the evolving virus and the higher transmissibility and lower fatality rates associated with the coronavirus Omicron variant now dominant in China and worldwide.

“Since Covid-19 struck, we have put the people first and put life first,” Mr. Xi said. “Following a science-based and targeted approach, we have adapted our Covid response in light of the evolving situation to protect the life and health of the people.”

Mr. Xi also described China’s economy as being on a sound footing, with gross domestic product on pace to exceed 120 trillion yuan, equivalent to $17.4 trillion, this year, at current prices not adjusted for inflation, implying nominal GDP growth this year of more than 4%.

Most economists are forecasting China’s inflation-adjusted GDP to grow by around 3% this year, while the government’s official target is around 5.5%. Earlier this week, China revised up GDP growth in 2021 to 8.4% from 8.1% previously reported in January, an adjustment that makes for a higher base of comparison with economic growth this year.

Mr. Xi used his speech to address other milestones over the past year, including the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress in October that saw Mr. Xi cement his grip on the levers of power, as well as the death of predecessor Jiang Zemin in November.

Though he didn’t explicitly mention Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Xi spoke of unprecedented changes taking place around the world. “The world is not yet a tranquil place,” he said.

During a video call on Friday, Mr. Xi and Russian President

Vladimir Putin

discussed expanding military ties and pledged to further strengthen strategic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. Mr. Putin raised the prospect of a state visit to Moscow by Mr. Xi in the spring, highlighting their bond as their nations stand at odds with the U.S. and its allies.

After a year of military and political maneuvering around Taiwan, Mr. Xi also urged people on the island, which China claims as part of its territory, to “work together with a unity of purpose to jointly foster lasting prosperity of the Chinese nation.”

Write to Sha Hua at sha.hua@wsj.com

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