US President Joe Biden is monitoring unrest in China by protesters demanding an end to Covid lockdowns and greater political freedoms, the White House said Monday.
The comments came after hundreds of people took to the streets in China's major cities over the weekend, in a rare outpouring of public frustration that has spread to international Chinese-speaking communities.
"He's monitoring this. We all are," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday.
Kirby would not describe Biden's reaction to the demonstrators' demands, saying: "The president's not going to speak for protesters around the world. They're speaking for themselves."
But he stressed US support for the demonstrators' rights.
"People should be allowed the right to assemble and to peacefully protest policies or laws or dictates that they take issue with," Kirby said.
Earlier Monday, the US State Department implied that China's strict lockdown policies were excessive, with a spokesperson saying "it's going to be very difficult" for China to "contain this virus through their zero-Covid strategy."
Discontent has been brewing for months in China over harsh coronavirus control measures, with relentless testing, localized lockdowns and travel restrictions pushing many to the brink.
That frustration was brought to a head after a deadly fire broke out last week in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China's Xinjiang region, with many blaming Covid-19 lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts.
Around the United States, notably on university campuses, rallies sprang up Monday in support of the protests in China.
Around 100 people, many of them students, gathered in Washington to call for greater freedoms and mourn those who died in Urumqi.
"(Officials) are borrowing the pretext of Covid, but using excessively strict lockdowns to control China's population. They disregarded human lives," said a Chinese student surnamed Chen.
"I came here to grieve," the 21-year-old added.