Nov 28, 2022 - Podcasts

Moment of truth for China's zero-COVID policy

Protests are erupting across China as public outrage grows over COVID lockdown restrictions. Chinese protesters are asking the government to lift its zero-COVID policy, and are calling for President Xi Jinping's resignation.

  • Plus, what's next for student loan forgiveness.
  • And, early voting begins in Georgia’s runoff Senate race.

Guests: Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and The Washington Post's Danielle Douglas-Gabriel.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, November 28th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: what’s next for student loan forgiveness. Plus, early voting begins in Georgia’s runoff Senate race. But first: the moment of truth for China’s zero COVID policy – that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Protests are erupting across China, as public outrage grows over new covid lockdown restrictions. Chinese protesters are asking the government to lift its zero COVID policy and even calling for President Xi Jinping's resignation. Axios’ Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian has been covering this and joins us now from Taipei. Good morning, Bethany.


NIALA: Bethany. Last week, a new surge of covid infections in China prompted a return to lockdowns. Now, this isn't the first time this has happened in the past three years, so what fueled these protests, which are pretty rare in China?

BETHANY: Well, it's been building. The initial event that sparked these was that on Thursday in Xinjiang, in the far west, there was a fire in an apartment building that was locked down and 10 people died. And many people in China saw some videos from that and came to believe that the reason they died was because of the lockdown, because firefighters could not, you know, get to them in time.

And it sparked these protests because of the built up anger and frustration and grief and loss and fear that Chinese people have been experiencing for months. As roaming lockdowns have taken away people's basic freedoms, the freedom to leave their apartment for weeks or months at a time. The freedom to go to work with the knowledge that they will be able to come home and be with their family because many people will walk into a building and there will be a Covid case in that building and the building gets shut down and they're trapped for days or even weeks. This lends a level of fear and uncertainty to people's lives, all across China. And also the economy has taken a dramatic hit and people are afraid of that. These lockdowns have interrupted supply chains, interrupted work, and people are really scared.

NIALA: So when we say protests, what kind of protests are we talking about and where?

BETHANY: These are unprecedented protests in Xi Jinping's China. There are people gathering in cities across the country, dozens or hundreds of people gathering in person chanting slogans, asking for Xi Jinping's resignation, even for the Communist Party to leave power. That's incredibly risky and rare. There are students at universities putting up posters, people posting videos online. I was watching these videos last night and I never in my life truly, I never thought that I would see a group of people in China chanting...(speaking Chinese), which means basically down with Xi Jinping. It was a huge shock to me.

NIALA: What's been the reaction from the government to these protests?

BETHANY: Well, so far we've seen their standard, what they call stability maintenance measures, lots and lots of internet censorship. What we haven't seen so far though, and what I'm watching for, is a heavy handed security approach to quash the protest. We have not yet seen mass arrests, and that is really the thing to look out for, to see what will Xi Jinping do when this much popular sentiment is against one of his signature policies.

NIALA: Can we also expect to see impacts on the global economy or the American economy because of all of this?

BETHANY: Yes, definitely. We've already seen impacts on supply chains for Apple, you know, one of, some of their major factories have been shut down. There are other shortages, other supply chain disruptions and it could affect prices for many different kinds of products. And in a global economy that's already pretty rocky, you know, this is really a global issue.

NIALA: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is Axios China Reporter. Thanks Bethany.

BETHANY: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: In a moment: student loan forgiveness in limbo.


What’s next for student loan forgiveness

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday millions of student loan borrowers received notice from the Biden administration that their applications for debt relief had been approved...even as the President's forgiveness plan remains in jeopardy, and none of that debt can currently be forgiven.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, national higher education reporter for the Washington Post, is back with us to explain where we're at with student debt forgiveness and give us the big picture -- hey Danielle.

Q: So Danielle what’s next for borrowers?

DANIELLE DOUGLAS-GABRIEL: Hi. Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Can you catch us up on all of these different lawsuits? So earlier this month, Biden's debt forgiveness plan was blocked by a federal appeals court. Now, the Biden administration has asked the Supreme Court to take up the case. What are the legal issues they are trying to resolve here?

DANIELLE: So there were seven lawsuits filed in order to abolish this program. Now, the two that have the greatest chance of upending the program are the ones that are currently at the appeals court. The one that you mentioned in particular, what that one involves six Republican led states that sued the department and the Biden administration a few months ago, shortly after the plan was announced. Saying that the president didn't have the authority to do this plan. Also, they claimed that by canceling student loans, that would effectively limit the revenue that their state entities and state investment entities could make off the program. So initially that case was tossed out by a lower court, seeing that these states didn't have the standing to even bring this case or prove that they'd be really harmed by this program. They appealed to the eighth circuit. The eighth issued an injunction, and that effectively bars the administration from accepting applications and processing any loans. The other thing to note here is that the administration asks the Supreme Court when it comes to the eighth circuit to intervene in the case and say that they can reinstate the program, and allow borrowers to get their loans discharged.

NIALA: 16 million borrowers got notices recently that their applications for the relief program were approved. Why is the Biden administration sending those out if the program's still in legal jeopardy?

DANIELLE: I get the sense that this is a PR move in a lot of ways that the administration wants people to understand that they're still working behind the scenes in order to get this program through and in order to try to get people's loans canceled. They just have their hands tied by the courts and I think they want to keep pushing that message as much as possible. You see it in the rhetoric coming from the White House. Every time there is a press gaggle and they are asked questions about student loans, it's the same answer about Republican lawmakers and Republican interest trying to block the relief that's needed by millions of Americans. Well, one way to reach those millions of Americans is to let those who qualify and who have been approved know, hey we have this done for you, we're just waiting for all those court cases to end.

NIALA: So Danielle, what's next for borrowers?

DANIELLE: I mean, certainly the decision to extend the pause into next summer gives people a lot of breathing room. In the meantime, that means that interest will continue not to accrue on their loans. For the vast majority of federal student loan borrowers, this gives them some time to figure out what to do with their finances. Some borrowers I've spoken with have been saving the money and setting it aside in like a high yield savings account with the intention of paying down the principle like weeks or a month before repayment kicks in so they could take advantage of not having to pay the interest. Others I've spoken with were able to save that money for a down payment purchase home when interest rates were lower. Others have been able to start, padding their retirement fund. I mean, while, for many people, student loans is just another bill that they have to deal with. For lots of others, it really does force them to forgo other kinds of life plans and making the sorts of strategic decisions about their finances that they had hoped to, that they'd be able to do in their 30s or in their 40s. So this is a big deal for the 40 some odd million people who are covered by this policy.

NIALA: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel is a national higher education reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks so much for being with us, Danielle.

DANIELLE: Thanks for having me.

Early voting begins in Georgia’s runoff Senate race

NIALA: One final headline for you today…early voting has started in Georgia in the Senate runoff race between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.

As of yesterday, more than 90,000 people had already voted, and some waited for hours – Senator Warnock on Twitter yesterday encouraged people to stay in line to vote.

Early voting continues through Friday, and Election Day is December 6th.

That’s it for us today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or you can text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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