Covid-19 Policies in China and What it Means for the West

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It is October 2022. Two and a half years after the start of the pandemic, China’s mandates in response to Covid-19 remain as extensive as ever. 

Many countries around the globe have begun to loosen their policies around Covid-19. Events are back in person, masks have become optional, and a sense of normalcy seems to have returned. Neighboring countries like Japan are completely open to tourism, and Taiwan has removed its quarantine period for travelers. [1] However, China is still far from this. Extensive lockdowns and isolation periods during the pandemic expanded the control of the Chinese Communist Party over its citizens. Awareness of this is important to understanding the influential role that China may play on the international stage in the future: a major player that “poses a difficult balancing act” for the Western world and beyond. [2] With heightened governmental pressure on surrounding regions, observing countries must observe and respond with caution to avoid a direct confrontation with China.

The purpose of all the policies still in place in China is to achieve “zero Covid”, or to lower the number of cases in the country to near zero. [3] The Chinese Communist Party believes that in trying their best to achieve “zero Covid”, they are doing the right thing. The news in China echoes the same and portrays the party in a positive light. According to The Economist, “The Chinese media are full of stories about death and devastation in the selfish, decadent West.” [4] Propaganda in China has been especially pervasive in recent years in the efforts to boost patriotism and trust within the ruling party. [5] As told to the citizens in China, “zero Covid” policies are how the government shows its generous care for the people. By maintaining control over the virus and not letting it run free like the West, they’re helping to put an end to the pandemic. [6] Moreover, citizens who disagree with the current policies lack an unbiased outlet for their thoughts. The government continues to illustrate the topic in a positive light, especially on social media. [7] [8] When Xinjiang went into a 40-plus day lockdown, citizens flooded social media with posts in outrage—people were running out of food to eat, and those with medical emergencies other than Covid were being denied treatment. Further, censorship efforts by the CCP increased in line with the scale of the pandemic. [9] The vast number of lockdowns and quarantining are still as rampant now as they were during the start of the pandemic. [10] [[11] While other countries have built up immunity through vaccines and boosters, China’s tough isolation policies may prove to be ineffective against new variants of the virus. [12]

The policies are also harming the citizens and the economy. In September 2022, 27 people were killed in transportation to a Covid quarantine facility. [13] The move was mandated by the “zero Covid” policies, but many speculate that some people on that bus didn’t actually have Covid and were instead selected due to their locality. The aftermath involved much grief and anger over the absurdity of these deaths and the response of the Guiyang government, seemingly the result of exceedingly authoritative policies. [14] [15]

Lockdowns have also been shown to negatively impact the welfare of citizens. Since residents aren’t allowed to leave their homes under full lockdown protocol, it’s not uncommon for households to run out of essential items like food. Last month, as many as 22 people died from starvation in one day in a lockdown in Xinjiang. [16] The United Nations has accused China of “serious human rights violations” due to both the sheer number of Uyghurs sent to isolation camps unwillingly and their mistreatment at the camps. [17] These are a few of many examples that demonstrate the extent of control the government has over the people. 

China’s extent of control does not stop at home. Just one month ago, in September 2022, President Biden signed an order preventing China’s ability to invest in United States technology. [18] This was done out to increase the privacy and safety of the data of U.S. citizens. Apps like TikTok have been under scrutiny for allegedly immorally selling the data collected from its users. With a total user base of 1 billion, which is expected to rise to 1.8 billion by the end of 2022, TikTok is a social media platform owned by the Chinese company Bytedance that has United States with over 200 million downloads. [19] This is evidence of China’s ‘soft power’ expanding outwards to countries in the West such as America.

The events that are occurring in China cannot be ignored. They are indications of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence over the people in China and the government’s goals on the international stage. Nigel Inkstar, former Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, says that “China has acquired global economic and diplomatic influence… [threatening] to overwhelm Western security agencies”. [20] From their long-term response to the pandemic, censorship of the news to portray themselves in a positive light, and the lack of resources available to citizens in the country, we can draw from these actions the ruthlessness and ambition that China has in expanding their influence beyond their own borders. They have a set overseas military base in Djibouti, a country in East Africa near the Red Sea region, and are also hoping to establish another military base in the Indian Ocean region. [21] Beyond Asia and Africa, China is attempting to strengthen its relationship with Brazil through trade and an alliance between Xi Jinping’s China and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. [22] These are ambitions—whether they are likely to become reality is another matter entirely, but it’s important to be aware of China’s intentions so other countries can clearly consider all options before deciding on a definitive course of action. 

Beyond Covid and into a more global scale, there have already been confrontations between China and the United States. This past August, China planned a series of military operations in the Taiwan strait which, over the next decade, can result in a stronger position for China to take control of the territory. [23] After considering multiple potential scenarios, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) states that while direct war seems unlikely at the moment, there is a high risk of disrupting the trade flows around Taiwan if China continues with its plans. They warn observing countries to have caution with regards to that region when planning into the future. [24] This highlights that militarily, China is able to put pressure on neighboring territory. Economically, on the other hand, China’s outlook is not as bright. Both the EIU and Tom Hancock of Bloomberg have reported this October that due to the sustained “zero-Covid” policies, spending has slowed, and it’ll be difficult for China to maintain a GDP growth rate of above 5% if these constraints are not removed. [25] [26] China is succeeding in some aspects while facing challenges in others. In the meantime, the West will have to stay quickly updated on current events to gauge the best response. Understanding the position of others is essential, especially in today’s unstable political climate.


[1] Alexandra Stevenson and Ben Dooley, “Major Covid Holdouts in Asia Drop Border Restrictions,” The New York Times, September 23, 2022,

[2] Nigel Inkstar, “China is Running Covert Operations That Could Seriously Overwhelm Us,” The New York Times, September 14, 2022,

[3] The Economist, “China shows few signs of loosening its zero-covid policy,” The Economist, October 13, 2022,

[4] The Economist.

[5] Qiao Long, Han Jie, and Singman, translated by Luisetta Mudie, “China Launches All-Out Propaganda Campaign as Xi Jinping Claims Poverty is Over,” Radio Free Asia, February 25, 2021,

[6] “China Covid lockdowns leave residents short of food and essential items,” BBC News, September 12, 2022,

[7] Long, Jie, and Singman, “China.”

[8] James Palmer, “Bus Crash Amplifies Zero-COVID Frustration,” Foreign Policy, September 21, 2022,

[9] Alexander Boyd, “Minitrue: Flood Weibo Comments on Xinjiang Prefecture’s Lockdown,” China Digital Times, September 9, 2022,

[10] “China Covid lockdowns.”

[11] Josephina Ma, “Lock down and running out of food: Xinjiang residents vent on social media,” South China Morning Post, September 9, 2022,

[12] J. Stephen Morrison, Yangzhong Huang, and Scott Kennedy, “China’s Zero-Covid: What Should the West Do?,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 27, 2022,

[13] Li Yuan, “‘We’re on That Bus, Too’: In China, a Deadly Crash Triggers Covid Trauma,” The New York Times, September 21, 2022,

[14] Li Yuan, “‘We’re on That Bus, Too’.”

[15] Eva Dou, Vic Chiang, and Lyric Li, “China channels anger over quarantine bus crash toward local officials,” The Washington Post, September 20, 2022,

[16] Shohret Hoshur, “22 die of starvation in one day under COVID lockdown in Xinjiang’s Ghulja,” Radio Free Asia, September 21, 2022,

[17] Matt Murphy, Flora Drury, and Tessa Wong, “Uyghurs: China may have committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang – UN,” BBC News, September 1, 2022,

[18] David E. Sanger, “Biden Issues New Order to Block Chinese Investment in Technology in the U.S.,” The New York Times, September 15, 2022,

[19] Mansoor Iqbal, “Tiktok Revenue and Usage Statistics (2022),” Business of Apps, August 19, 2022,

[20] Nigel Inkstar, “China is Running Covert Operations.”

[21] Tarun Chhabra, Rush Doshi, Ryan Hass, and Emilie Kimball, “Global China: Regional influence and strategy,” Brookings, July 2020,

[22] Chhabra, Doshi, Hass, and Kimball, “Global China.”

[23] China’s military drills around Taiwan create immediate risks,” Economist Intelligence Unit, August 3, 2022,

[24] “What next for China, Taiwan and the US? Three scenarios,” Economist Intelligence Unit, August 4, 2022,

[25] “China’s economic outlook remains dark,” Economist Intelligence Unit, October 24, 2022,

[26] Tom Hancock, “China’s Shot at Overtaking the U.S. Economy Is at Stake in Xi’s Next Term,” Bloomberg, October 10, 2022,