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UPDATE 1-U.S. backs right to peaceful protests in China

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WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) – The United States backs the right of people to peacefully protest in China, Washington said on Monday as protesters in multiple Chinese cities have demonstrated against heavy COVID-19 measures in recent days.

Chinese police on Monday tightened security at the sites of weekend protests in Shanghai and Beijing, after crowds there and in other Chinese cities and dozens of university campuses made a show of civil disobedience unprecedented since leader Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago.

“We’ve long said everyone has the right to peacefully protest, here in the United States and around the world. This includes in the PRC (People’s Republic of China),” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement.

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“We think it’s going to be very difficult for the People’s Republic of China to be able to contain this virus through their zero-COVID strategy,” the spokesperson said, adding that the United States was focused on “what works” to combat the virus, including by enhancing vaccination rates.

Beijing and Washington have dealt with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in vastly different ways, a split that has reshaped the contest between the world’s two leading economies.

Beijing’s zero-COVID policy has kept China’s official death toll in the thousands, against more than a million in the United States, but has come at the cost of confining many millions of people to long spells at home. This has inflicted extensive disruption and damage to China’s economy.

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Earlier in the pandemic, the contest between the two countries was on display as they sought to burnish their countries’ geopolitical clout through

vaccine distribution

.

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The backlash against COVID curbs is a setback for China’s efforts to eradicate the virus, which is infecting record numbers after swathes of the population sacrificed income, mobility and mental health to prevent it from spreading.

During his tenure, Xi has overseen the quashing of dissent and the expansion of a high-tech social surveillance system that has made protest more difficult, and riskier. (Reporting by Steve Holland, Michael Martina and Susan Heavey; Editing by Toby Chopra and Mark Heinrich)

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