'China protests show Xi's grip on power is becoming shakier,' says John Bolton

28 November 2022, 19:11 | Updated: 28 November 2022, 20:19

Xi Jinping could be losing his grip, John Bolton has said
Xi Jinping could be losing his grip, John Bolton has said. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The protests that have swept across China in recent days show president Xi Jinping is losing control, former US national security adviser John Bolton has said.

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Mr Bolton, who served under several presidents including Donald Trump, told LBC's Andrew Marr on Monday that the Chinese government was not expecting the widespread protests against the regime's draconian Covid restrictions.

John Bolton says China is the greatest threat to the west.

He said: "I think this is something they didn’t anticipate. One of the reasons we’re all surprised by it is for nearly three years now since the onset of Covid, we really haven’t known a lot about what’s going on inside China.

We haven’t had the chance to assess how the Chinese people regard the oppressive Zero Covid policy, and a lot of the implications from it."

Mr Bolton added: "I think these protests, obviously triggered by Covid restrictions, nonetheless show a lot of dissatisfaction among the Chinese people.

Protesters against Chinese Covid policies on Monday
Protesters against Chinese Covid policies on Monday. Picture: Getty
Xi Jinping could be under pressure, Mr Bolton said
Xi Jinping could be under pressure, Mr Bolton said. Picture: Getty
People protesting near the Chinese embassy in Tokyo
People protesting near the Chinese embassy in Tokyo. Picture: Getty

"Does it threaten the regime today? No. But does it indicate that [the president] may have control of the Chinese communist party but not the entire country? I think that’s the signal."

Asked by Andrew Mr Bolton for his opinion of forecasts that Xi could stay in power for the next 20 years, noted foreign policy hawk Mr Bolton said that "no authoritarian figure that threatens the West should be allowed to rest easily at night."

Protests over China’s strict lockdown hit Shanghai and other cities

He added: You can see how prepared the Chinese government is to use repressive force by looking at what they did to Hong Kong, violating a sacred international agreement…

"That’s the sort of behaviour that I think we could see if these protests continue.

"And if you want to accept - whether it’s Xi Jinping or Kim Jong Un or the Ayatollah Khamenei, or Vladimir Putin - just as another regular leader, people are free to do that. I think that’s the wrong approach.:

His comments come as students lead demonstrations in cities across China as the government seeks to impose the latest in a series of wide, severe Covid-19 restrictions.

Read more: BBC journalist beaten and kicked by Chinese police while covering anti-lockdown protest in Shanghai

Read more: Andrew Marr: With protests rocking China and migrants crossing the Channel, can the UK be a leader in an insecure world?

Violence has broken out between police and protesters in at least seven cities including financial hub Shanghai, capital Beijing, Guangzhou and Nanjing.

Some observers claim the number gathered is the highest to publicly protest China's government since the 1989 wave of unrest that resulted in demonstrations at Tiananmen Square - and a deadly state response.

Crowds stood and filmed as officers shoved people who had gathered in the street and shouted “We don’t want PCR tests, we want freedom!”, according to a witness.

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