Xi Jinping Flees to Chinese Wetlands for Environmentalism Photo Op

China's President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting with Russia's Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Anton Vaino at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 17, 2018. (Photo by MADOKA IKEGAMI / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read MADOKA IKEGAMI/AFP via Getty Images)
MADOKA IKEGAMI/AFP via Getty

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping made a rare public appearance on Tuesday at a wetlands reserve in eastern Zhejiang province to promote “protecting ecological environment,” failing to address reports that Beijing’s Chinese coronavirus data is significantly underreporting the extent of the epidemic there.

In contrast to Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, Zhejiang has documented 1,257 cases of coronavirus at press time and only one death. Hubei has documented 67,802 cases of coronavirus and 3,193 deaths, though Chinese dissidents and independent reports estimate the real death toll in Wuhan alone is closer to between 30,000 and 40,000 lives.

Xi spent his time in Zhejiang, about 900 miles from Beijing, this week promoting both environmentalism – despite China being the world’s worst polluter – and the Communist Party’s sprawling cybersecurity apparatus, which it uses to monitor, censor, and disappear Chinese citizens who may at some point express disagreement with his government.

Xinhua, the Communist Party news agency, described the latter as Xi visiting a project called “City Brain,” designed “to help the city make plans in areas including public security, transport and healthcare with the use of big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, among other cutting-edge technologies.”

At the wetlands park, which Xinhua claimed was the first of its kind in the country, Xi reportedly “stressed protecting ecological environment, saying all the ecological protection efforts will be rewarded.”

“Protecting mountains and waters here well will provide people a unique advantage for further economic development,” Xi claimed. “Fully building a modern socialist country includes both urban modernization and agricultural and rural modernization.”

Xi did mention the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but in the context of China’s economy – which the Communist Party claims is off to a “roaring” start selling faulty medical supplies to foreign countries currently struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. One study found that, had China taken proper safety measures in Wuhan, the Communist Party could have prevented 95 percent of known coronavirus cases.

“More efforts should be made to accelerate and further expand work and production resumption in an orderly manner on the premise of strictly implementing COVID-19 control measures,” Xi reportedly said during his Zhejiang tour. In addition to visiting the wetlands, Xi allegedly “inspected” the return to normalcy after quarantine measures in the province were lifted this week.

“Stopping by vendor booths that make Hangzhou’s well-known Longjing tea and sell local signature cultural products, Xi encouraged the vendors to inherit and develop traditional handicrafts and other forms of intangible cultural heritage,” Xinhau reported.

Xi interacted minimally with villagers at the small Yucun village, where state media claimed villagers voluntarily greeted Xi with applause and cheers. Chinese state media broadcast video of Xi speaking to locals at the wetlands park who were apparently taking a boat along a local creek for a ride and invited Xi to join them. The video did not show Xi getting near the people or accepting their offer.

“I would love to, but I got a big team here,” Xi reportedly replied.

Xi concluded his trip by claiming that China was “moving steadily in a positive direction” away from the coronavirus epidemic, a claim disputed by multiple reports on the devastation in Hubei. The dictator said that Beijing would now focus not on Chinese citizens with coronavirus – who, reports say, have not been able to receive medical care for months – but on “imported cases,” suggesting the risk of foreigners infecting people in the homeland with the Chinese virus was higher than locals contracting it from others in the origin country of the pandemic.

Xi’s visit to Hangzhou’s Xixi National Wetland Park was his most prominent public appearance since visiting Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus originated, in mid-March. The outbreak that has now become a pandemic began in November, scientists believe, meaning it took Xi almost five months to show his face to the people of the devastated city.

To prepare for that visit, reports revealed that the Chinese Communist Party locked Wuhan residents up at gunpoint as a precautionary measure to prevent protests against Xi. Many in Wuhan had shouted attacks at another Beijing official a week before Beijing’s visit; last week, a riot broke out on the bridge connecting Hubei to Jiangxi province in which Hubei residents flipped over Jiangxi police cars and attacked officers.

Xi’s visit to Wuhan was meant to signal that the epidemic in the country had subsided, a claim still highly disputed today by dissident journalists and local residents. The day after Xi made his visit, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Wuhan virus outbreak a pandemic.

Xi’s wetlands tour also occurs as demands grow for his resignation, seemingly from some high-ranking officials in Beijing. Multiple anonymous letters have surfaced, demanding Xi reconsider his position as head of the Party, reportedly circulating among officials and elites in the capital. The letters follow a similar attack from Ren Zhiqiang, a real estate millionaire, who called Xi a “clown” and compared him to the emperor with no clothes shortly before mysteriously disappearing in March.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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