For the last four days at least, China has had a coup which also it has not had, and its President Xi Jinping ousted and/or under house arrest who also has not been ousted or is under house arrest. If this sounds confusing, it is meant to because that seems to sum up the frenzy on social media over a much-speculated coup in China.
For instance, Chinese author Gordon Chang, living in the U.S., tweeted “We do not know what is going on in #China, but it ain’t good.” He also tweeted a video purportedly showing vehicles belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) going into Beijing. Accompanying the video that was originally tweeted by a certain Jennifer Zeng was Chang’s observation, “This video of military vehicles moving to #Beijing comes immediately after the grounding of 59% of the flights in the country and the jailings of senior officials. There’s a lot of smoke, which means there is a fire somewhere inside the #CCP. #China is unstable”.
Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a former member of India’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, and currently president of Virat Hindu Sangham, tweeted on September 24, “New rumour to be checked out: Is Xi jingping under house arrest in Beijing? When Xi was in Samarkand recently, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were supposed to have removed Xi from the Party’s in-charge of Army. Then House arrest followed. So goes the rumour.”
While the Internet remained abuzz with the rumor, the more sober explanation could be that with the impending meeting of the Chinese Communist party’s (CCP) on October 16, where Xi is expected to be granted an unprecedented third term, the rumor mills were becoming overheated. Add to that the purges of some senior government officers and functionaries and it has the makings of a perfect conspiracy. A Chinese court jailed former vice-minister of public security Sun Lijun, former justice minister Fu Zhenghua along with former police chiefs of Shanghai, Chongqing and Shanxi on corruption charges. It has been reported that Sun and Fu were being seen as Xi’s adversaries.
The fact that these purges took place barely three weeks before the crucial CCP meeting created a sense in some quarters that Xi has become vulnerable and hence he is acting so severely to preempt any challenges.
However, yesterday the list of some 2300 CCP central committee delegates included the Chinese president’s name, putting to rest the feverish rumors of his ouster and house arrest.
The rumors were more a result some fanciful thinking rather than some immediate verifiable ferment surrounding the Chinese president. Considering that in the last few years he has gone out of his way to consolidate power, it is no surprise that he has created a whole constituency of his enemies. It was in January, 2018 that Xi began centralizing power in himself with the abolishment of presidential term limits. At that point, serious reporting out of Beijing spoke of how Xi employed all manners of craftiness to rewrite the country’s constitution to achieve his goals, one of which was to get rid the presidential term limits.
With his second term approaching its end, it is crucial for Xi to ensure that if he wants it, he gets to stay for a third term starting in 2023.
What has fueled the feverish rumormongering is the fact that Xi has been absent from the public eye since he returned to China from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in, Samarkand, Uzbekistan last weekend. There are those who say his absence has been necessitated by him being in quarantine.
Beijing has maintained a studied silence on the rumors of an anti-Xi coup. The overarching sense among serious China watchers is that these rumors are absurd and have no basis in reality. In not responding to them the Chinese government is perhaps achieving two objectives—not lending any credence to them and answer them on October 16 with Xi’s reappointment for a third term and thereby add to his mystique.