‘Coup d’état’ in China? Xi Jinping reappears and crushes the rumors

(CNN) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made his first public appearance since returning from a trip to Central Asia, quashing unfounded rumors of a “coup” that have sparked a frenzy of speculation ahead of a key Communist Party meeting.

Xi visited an exhibition in Beijing on Tuesday showcasing China’s achievements during its decade in power, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders at the Beijing Exhibition Hall on September 27.

On the network’s flagship evening news, Xi was shown wearing a face mask and looking at exhibits at the Beijing Exhibition Hall, where photos of himself were featured heavily. He was accompanied by Premier Li Keqiang and other senior leaders, including all members of the party’s top Politburo Standing Committee.

Xi had not been seen in public since he returned to Beijing from a regional summit in Uzbekistan on September 16. The visit was his first trip abroad in nearly 1,000 days since the start of the pandemic.

His absence sparked a whirlwind of online rumors, which claimed, without evidence, that he had been overthrown in a military coup and placed under house arrest.

The unsubstantiated rumors were further fueled by claims of mass flight cancellations, common under China’s zero-Covid restrictions, and unverified videos of military vehicles on the road.

The wild speculation, which originated in Chinese dissident networks before being picked up and amplified by the Indian media, was so intense that the hashtag “Chinese coup” trended on Twitter over the weekend.

That the rumor could spread so quickly is largely due to the highly opaque nature of the Chinese political system, in which major decisions are mostly made behind closed doors.

The lack of information means that even veteran observers of China’s political elite maintain a “never say never” approach, pointing out that while an event like a coup remains highly unlikely, it is impossible to know for sure what is really going on.

On this occasion, most were quick to point out the total lack of credible evidence to support the alleged ‘coup’. Instead, they noted that Xi was likely following his own quarantine rules and remaining in self-isolation after returning from abroad.

Hong Kong distributes Xi Jinping’s speech in schools 0:56

Even as the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China is sticking to a strict zero-Covid policy favored by Xi. The Chinese border is still largely closed, and all international arrivals must undergo seven days of hotel quarantine, followed by three days of home isolation. Xi visited the expo ten days after returning to China.

In July, after a brief trip to Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule, Xi disappeared from public view for more than a week, before appearing on state television visiting the far-flung region. western Xinjiang.

But the timing of Xi’s latest absence added to intense speculation. Xi is just weeks away from the 20th Party Congress that begins on October 16, at which he is expected to break with tradition and be appointed to a third term in power, further cementing his status as China’s most powerful leader. in decades.

Rumors of internal political battles and power struggles have long dogged China’s political elite thanks to their lack of transparency, especially in the run-up to major events like the five-year leadership shake-up.

Under Xi, this information opacity has only grown as he ruthlessly suppresses dissent and disloyalty in the party and concentrates power in his own hands. As a result, the power of the party factions and elders is believed to have been significantly weakened.

“The political opacity really makes it much easier for people to exchange rumours. Very little information leaks from inside China,” said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.

Growing public discontent with Xi’s policies also fueled the rumours, Yang said.

“With the covid-zero policy causing frustrations and the economy stagnant, there is a strong desire for change, and we humans often want to believe what we expect to see,” he said.

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