China's ruling Communist Party announced on Tuesday that it would "vigorously crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces" in response to massive protests by citizens dissatisfied with the country's stringent coronavirus restrictions.
The statement coincides with a show of force by security services to deter further protests that erupted over the weekend in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and other cities.
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission's statement did not directly address the protests but demonstrates the CCP's resolve to enforce its rule.
The statement stated, "We must resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces in accordance with the law, resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order, and effectively maintain overall social stability."
SUVs, vans, and armored vehicles with flashing lights were parked along city streets on Wednesday as police and paramilitary forces conducted random identification checks and searched residents' phones for photos, prohibited apps, and other possible evidence of participation in the protests.
Recently, Xi granted himself a third five-year term as secretary-general, which could make him China's leader in perpetuity. Nonetheless, neither he nor the party has directly addressed the demonstrations that have spread to college campuses and the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong in the south.
The majority of protesters criticized China's "zero-COVID" policy, which has resulted in a lockdown and quarantine, limiting their access to food and medicine, as well as harming the economy and restricting travel.
Some have even demanded greater freedom and democracy, as well as the resignation of Xi and the party he leads. This type of speech is considered subversive in China and is punishable by lengthy prison sentences.
At least ten people died in a fire on November 24 in China's far west, prompting the public to question whether firefighters or victims attempting to escape were impeded by COVID-19 restrictions, which sparked protests over the weekend.
After the demonstrations, some restrictions were eased and a new push to vaccinate vulnerable groups was announced, but the "zero-COVID" strategy was still maintained.
Last month, the party pledged to reduce controls, but an increase in infections prompted party members to tighten restrictions. The National Health Commission reported that 37,612 cases had been detected in the previous twenty-four hours, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,233.
Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were removed by the party's online censorship apparatus, indicating that the police were attempting to conceal their crackdown.