The rumours of a ‘coup’ against Xi Jinping start a media frenzy. Former officers of the Red Army Division were selected as delegates to the 20th Party Congress – a signal to the border dispute with India. Xi wants the full support of the PLA. Beijing calls for a “peaceful resolution” in Ukraine at the UNGA. Chinascope separates the chaff of rumours from news in the week from China – and the world.
China over the week
Rumours about a ‘coup’ started circulating on Friday after a set of overseas Chinese media – especially Falun Gong-backed media – claimed that President Xi Jinping had been “arrested” after a “coup”.
The rumour started when a journalist named Zhao Lanjian, who is in exile in the US after escaping from China, made unsubstantiated claims on Twitter about mass flight cancellations because of ‘unexplained’ reasons. The claim was picked up by the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong-backed media networks, including New Tang Dynasty (NTDTV) and overseas Chinese YouTuber Jennifer Zeng. The latter added another layer of false credibility to the story by showing a clip of a military convoy travelling on an unknown road in China.
Further fuel to the rumour mill was added by pointing out Xi’s disappearance from the public eye after returning from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan, which can be explained by Xi currently quarantined. NTDTV published an article citing that Xi wasn’t present at the national defence and military reform seminar, which fueled the rumour about a ‘coup’.
The jump from the claim about flight cancellation from the military convoy created a social media storm of rumours widely shared on Twitter by Indian handles.
I examined the flight data, and the minor cancellations can be attributed to the Covid-19-related lockdowns and restrictions in multiple regions across China. The political activities in Beijing went on as usual on 23 September when the rumour began to circulate with no signs of any political upheaval to be seen in the latest Chinese state media’s broadcast of Xinwen Lianbo.
Xi’s disappearance from public view has fueled many rumours in the past, and he usually steps back from a hectic schedule to return in a few days’ time. Unlike places in Myanmar, the PLA is firmly under the grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). If there is ever a ‘coup’ against Xi, it would be led by the political leaders and not the military. A potential ‘coup’ will have very different signs of political upheaval; flight cancellations don’t reflect the chaos that will follow such a scenario.
To end the rumour, Georg Fahrion, German newspaper Der Spiegel’s reporter in Beijing, posted pictures of Tiananmen Square and other major venues in the city–with a satirical commentary on the ‘coup’–to show that there was no military mobilisation or turmoil in China.
Today in Beijing, I investigated the #chinacoup so you don’t have to. At considerable personal risk, I ventured out to some neuralgic key points in the city. Disturbing finds. Brace yourselves. /1 pic.twitter.com/z4CJYpQbbk
— Georg Fahrion (@schorselysees) September 25, 2022
Far from a ‘coup’, Xi was actually stomping out any opposition and sending a loud and clear signal. Within three days, at least six top officials were arrested or sentenced to prison under corruption charges.
Sun Lijun, former vice minister of public security, who has been accused of leading a ‘political clique’, was sentenced to death, which could be commuted to life in prison without parole after two years. Fu Zhenghua, the former justice minister, was imprisoned for accepting bribes. Liu Xinyun, former vice governor and head of the public security department in Shanxi province, was sentenced to 14 years for bribery and abuse. Gong Daoan, former deputy mayor of Shanghai and the city’s public security bureau, was sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes worth 73.43 million yuan ($10.4 million). Gong Daoan, once a top police officer in Shanghai, was purged. The former police chief of Chongqing, Deng Huilin was given a 15-year sentence. Wang Like, former secretary of Jiangsu provincial political and legal affairs commission, was also sentenced to death with a potential life sentence after two years.
The sentencing of the officials is linked to the ‘coup’ rumours. Many members of the Chinese diaspora media have had links to the officials sentenced and are witnessing the demise of a network that could have countered Xi.
Meanwhile, ahead of the Party Congress, an updated version of the CCP code says officials could be demoted for “shaky ideals and beliefs, soft stances and vague attitudes on major issues involving the party’s leadership.”
Beijing isn’t shying away from underscoring the tensions with India by elevating soldiers from a key PLA division as delegates to the 20th Party Congress.
Thirty members from Western Theatre Command were selected, nine out of which were members from the Red Army Division (officially known as the 6th Division) which has a long history in the border areas near Ladakh – including the 1962 War. Qi Fabao, the regimental commander who negotiated with the Indian Army during the 2020 Galwan clash, was one of the 13 selected. A total of 304 representatives from the PLA will attend the Party Congress in October.
Jayadeva Ranade, President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, pointed out the significance of the move. “In this backdrop of continuing tension and deployment of 60,000-70,000 troops each by India and China in the high-altitude eastern Ladakh, what is interesting is that the number of delegates representing the PLA WTC at the 20th Party Congress is nearly double than that of the other four theatre commands. The WTC has selected 30 delegates for the 20th Party Congress. There are other signs of the leadership’s attention to the WTC,” Ranade wrote.
In the lead-up to the Congress, the PLA Daily has published multiple articles reminding the Chinese military to follow “party’s leadership”.
On Sunday, Xinhua News Agency reported the completion of selecting the final list of 2,296 delegates to the Party Congress.
On 19 September, Chinese state councillor and defence minister Wei Fenghe met Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during the latter’s visit to Xi’an.
“No matter how the world situation changes, China and Pakistan will always be trustworthy and most reliable true friends and good brothers. The two sides should continue to improve their ability to jointly cope with various risks and challenges, and work together to safeguard the common interests of the two countries and regional peace and stability,” Wei said, according to the Chinese Military Network.
Bajwa wasn’t the only major foreign security official visiting China recently. Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev was on a two-day visit to China, during which he co-chaired the 17th Round of Strategic Security Consultation between China and Russia with Yang Jiechi, Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs.
Also read: LAC disengagement a bargain Xi had to bite at. But Chinese media isn’t telling people that
China in world news
The United Nations General Assembly in New York acts as a global summit for leaders when they gather every year. The sessions of the UNGA saw a few multilateral and bilateral meetings, with many watching the interactions between foreign ministers of India, China, and Russia.
The Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi met his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar at the BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UNGA.
India and China called for a “negotiated end to the Ukraine war”, signifying how fast Russia is losing support from its key allies.
“We call on all parties concerned to keep the crisis from spilling over and protect the legitimate rights and the interests of developing countries,” Wang Yi said in his remarks to the UNGA debate.
Wang Yi also met Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. “China will continue upholding an objective and just position to promote peace talks, and hopes that all parties refrain from giving up dialogue efforts and resolve security concerns through peace talks,” he said.
Despite China’s call for ending the Ukraine war, Beijing is unlikely to completely revamp ties with Moscow and support Putin in areas where it feels comfortable.
While at UNGA, Wang Yi met Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba in person for the first time since Russia’s offensive on Kyiv. Both have spoken over the phone since the Ukraine war started.
“China has always been committed to promoting peace talks, never stands idly by, never adds fuel to the fire, and never takes advantage of the situation for self-interests,” he said during the meeting with Kuleba.
Most recently, Putin made remarks about using nuclear weapons to protect Russia’s “territorial integrity.” China’s response was rather muted, calling for dialogue and engagement.
Prominent world leaders attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Wang Qishan, China’s vice president, was allowed to attend the funeral after a Chinese delegation led by ambassador Zheng Zeguang was barred from visiting the Queen’s coffin.
Also read: This is how China’s provinces compete to bring new projects. It’s called localised bargaining
Must read this week
Pelosi’s visit spurs Chinese discussions on a two-front crisis – Antara Ghoshal Singh
Decoding the 20th Party Congress – Asia Society Policy Institute
As crackdown eases, China’s Xinjiang faces long road to rehabilitation – Eva Dou and Cate Cadell
Why Chinese Cinema Is Still Waiting on the Next Generation – Liu Qing
Experts this week
“In Russia’s ‘Empire Strikes Back’, we can also glimpse the changes in the historical dimension of the worldview of Russia’s top leaders and some ruling elites in the past 20 years. In such a worldview, the imagining of the future is increasingly presented as a ‘return’ to a point in the past. The point of return can be the so-called ‘1989 order’: the underlying understanding is that neither the Soviet Union nor Russia is a loser of the Cold War; what Russia needs to maintain is the 1989 Gorbachev era when the Cold War ended peacefully with the Western world. This is the ‘status quo’ that Russia needs to maintain the international order, not the post-1991 order that the United States is trying to maintain – in this sense, the United States is precisely the destroyer of the status quo,” writes Zhang Xin, Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, East China Normal University.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
This is a weekly round-up that Aadil Brar writes about what’s buzzing in China. This will soon be available as a subscribers’-only product.
(Edited by Prashant)