The Chinese rumor mill has gotten out of control over the last 48 hours. For those who have not heard the rumors, Xi has been supposedly removed in a coup ahead of October's Party Congress.
#PLA military vehicles heading to #Beijing on Sep 22. Starting from Huanlai County near Beijing & ending in Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province, entire procession as long as 80 KM. Meanwhile, rumor has it that #XiJinping was under arrest after #CCP seniors removed him as head of PLA pic.twitter.com/hODcknQMhE— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) September 23, 2022
By Sept. 24, Xi Jinping had become one of the top trending topics on Twitter. His name appeared on hashtags more than 42,000 times and the term “China coup” circulated 9,300 rounds on the platform, according to The Epoch Times.
“New rumour to be checked out: Is Xi jingping [sic] under house arrest in Beijing?” wrote Subramanian Swamy, a former Indian cabinet minister and parliamentary member until April.
Such speculation also came as Chinese nationals noted alleged mass flight cancellations across the country. Nearly 10,000 flights were supposedly called off on Saturday, the same day a key conference on national defense and military reform was convened in Beijing.
Meanwhile, Xi, who arrived back in China’s capital on Sept. 16 after meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at a regional summit in Central Asia, didn’t appear at the Beijing meeting but relayed instructions that the armed forces should focus on preparing for war. Similarly missing was Wei Fenghe, his handpicked Chinese military general currently serving as the country’s national defense minister.
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So those are the rumors, if mostly without any substantiating evidence. Meanwhile, here are some actual facts from the ground in Beijing, courtesy of Der Spiegel correspondent Georg Fahrion
This is Xinhua Gate, the main entrance to the Zhongnanhai compound, where the entire central leadership resides and works, including Xi Jinping.— Georg Fahrion (@schorselysees) September 25, 2022
Elite paratroopers have wrested control over the gate, cunningly disguised as the five middle-aged dudes who always stand there. /2 pic.twitter.com/9GVtkD0FBD
Rebels in army fatigues guard the headquarters of the State Grid, controlling electricity supply in the capital. /4 pic.twitter.com/ZDBOHLg1LL— Georg Fahrion (@schorselysees) September 25, 2022
In front of the Central Station, holdouts from army units loyal to Xi have dug themselves in, guarding that crucial railway hub from their positions fortified with sandbags. /6 pic.twitter.com/D3DoSvlvXb— Georg Fahrion (@schorselysees) September 25, 2022
Alas, hope is dim. Coup reinforcements arrive in armored personnel carriers.— Georg Fahrion (@schorselysees) September 25, 2022
Send us your thoughts and prayers. /end pic.twitter.com/MQWl1QaeZX
China analyst Gordon Chang affirmed that a coup is unlikely, pointing to the lack of supporting evidence on the ground.
“I don’t think there was a coup,” he told The Epoch Times. “Because if there were a coup, we would see, for instance, a lot of military vehicles in the center of Beijing. There have been no reports of that. Also, there probably would be a declaration of martial law that has not occurred.”
“So it seems that something is happening, but we don’t know exactly what,” he said, adding that the only thing that can dispel some of the speculations is if Xi comes out to speak in public.
Zhang Tianliang, a writer and author of the Chinese language book “China’s Path to Peaceful Transition,” similarly dismissed the house arrest theory as not conforming to common sense.
During the past week, six senior Chinese officials, including two former cabinet-level officials, were handed heavy sentences for corruption-related offenses, adding to a string of officials purged in Xi’s anti-graft campaign he launched after taking office in late 2012.
How would Xi have the capacity to punish them if he has lost his grip on power, Zhang argued in his show on Sept. 22.
Finally, here is some additional color from Bill Bishop of Sinocism.
It’s CPC elite politics so never say never but I think this round of rumors is BS.
The rumor was originally hyped by an account with a track record of making bogus claims, and in the frenzied amplification no one has presented any credible sourcing or evidence, just lots of wishful thinking.
Today Xinhua announced the full delegate list for the 20th Party Congress and the statement about the selection, also read out on the Sunday CCTV Evening News, opens with the line “Under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core”
And Xi of course is one of the delegates:
The rumor also included claims of massive plane cancellations and how that indicated something was up. Those claims turned out to be incorrect.
We may not see Xi for a while and so his “disappearance” may continue to fuel this and perhaps other rumors.
Whether or not Xi makes a public appearance, though, holds little significance, said Wang He, a U.S.-based commentator on China’s current affairs, noting that such an extended absence from public attention hasn’t been unique for Xi. To Wang, Xi’s overseas trip ahead of the Party congress was a projection of confidence.
“Without absolute assurance, this man will not take risks easily,” he said of Xi.