First, despite Xi’s claim that the zero-tolerance strategy toward Covid is scientific, it is evident that China’s approach from the very beginning has been more political than scientific. Led by Xi, the CCP has sought to prove a point to Chinese citizens and to the world at large that its handling of the Covid pandemic has been far superior compared to the disorder and inefficiency of the western world that has suffered far more deaths. The CCP has been very consistent in its messaging that its “good governance” is down to its political system that is far better than chaotic democracies.

Two years of relentless propaganda has constricted Xi’s space for manoeuvring to such an extent that a reversal now carries an intolerable risk of rising in a contagion that will puncture the halo around Xi and every death henceforth will be blamed on him. Moreover, while the Chinese public might be suffering from Covid-related restrictions, the political challenge arising from this scenario is insignificant compared to the loss of public trust that may happen if the policy — that has been at the core of CCP’s propaganda — is overhauled so close to the crucial party conclave. It will be an admission of Xi’s personal failure after two years of claiming that ‘zero-Covid is the best’, and the coveted third term may become elusive.

This may explain why the CCP general secretary was forcefully claiming during the recent politburo standing committee meeting that “our policies can stand the test of time, and our measures are science-based and effective.”

As analyst Yun Sun of Washington-based Stimson Center told CS Monitor, “In China’s political culture, the reorientation of policy … raises a lot of questions. The first question is, was that policy wrong?… With his (Xi’s) policy currently, he’s already creating a lot of complaints and … dissatisfaction within the country, so for him to change the policy now is going to be politically even more risky than not changing it.”

And, as with Putin, there’s strong pressure to tell the big guy what he wants to hear: “The centralization of hard power in Xi’s hands means that dissent within the party must reach a tipping point before it can pose even a remote political challenge to Xi. On the other hands, ambitious workers and local government functionaries know that fidelity to Xi’s policy prescriptions is the only way to climb up the power ladder.”

The Chinese like to say that their autocracy is less chaotic than democracy. But the problem with autocracy is that it makes you stupid, and the longer they stay in power, the more stupid the autocrats become.