Images of tanks and military vehicles moving along Beijing’s Changan Avenue have given rise to rumours of a coup taking place. Bill Gertz of the Washington Times with a quick roundup of what’s been happening online:
Chinese microblogging sites Sina Weibo, QQ Weibo, and the bulletin board of the search engine Baidu all reported “abnormalities” in Beijing on the night of March 19.
The comments included rumors of the downfall of the Shanghai leadership faction and a possible “military coup,” along with reports of gunfire on Beijing’s Changan Street. The reports were quickly removed by Chinese censors shortly after postings and could no longer be accessed by Wednesday.
The unusual postings included reports that military vehicles were sent to control Changan Street, along with plainclothes police officers and metal barriers.
Another posting quoted internal sources as saying senior Communist Party leaders are divided over the ouster of Mr. Bo. The divide was said to pit Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and against party security forces and Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang.
Late Wednesday, another alarming indicator came when Beijing authorities ordered all levels of public-security and internal-security forces under Mr. Zhou to conduct nationwide study sessions, although Mr. Zhou’s name was not on the order – a sign his future may be in doubt.
Isaac Stone Fish of Foreign Policy with more rumours:
Mainland media sites have begun to strongly censor discussion of Bo Xilai and entirely unsubstantiated rumors of gunfire in downtown Beijing (an extremely rare occurance in Beijing). Chinese websites hosted overseas, free from censorship, offer a host of unsupported, un-provable commentary on what might have happened in the halls of power. Bannedbook.org, which provides free downloads of “illegal” Chinese books, posted a long explanation of tremors in the palace of Zhongnanhai, sourced to a “person with access to high level information in Beijing,” of a power struggle between President Hu Jintao, who controls the military, and Zhou, who controls China’s formidable domestic security apparatus. The Epoch Times, a news site affiliated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement (which banned in China), has published extensively in English and Chinese about the coup.
Speculation is rife: A Canadian Chinese news portal quoted Deutsche Welle quoting the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily quoting a netizen that a group of citizens unfurled a banner in a main square in Chongqing that said “Party Secretary Bo, We Love and Esteem You,” and were subsequently taken away by plain-clothes security forces. A controversial Peking University professor Kong Qingdong, a 73rd generation descendant of Confucius, said on his television show that removing Bo Xilai is similar to “a counter-revolutionary coup;” one news site reported his show has since been suspended.
Adam Minter of Bloomberg on humorous netizens commenting on the non-coup:
For every netizen who tweeted “coup?” “coup!” and “coup …” there were others who dismissed the whole matter, often with the devil-may-care humor so characteristic of Weibo. For example, on Tuesday, a netizen in Shanghai asked, “If there’s a coup d’etat, is it a legal holiday?”
Still, that humor can often exhibit a very harsh anti-government edge. One of the more common jokes expressed during the coup fever was one that referenced the Chinese government’s unpopular decision to raise gasoline prices by 6.5 percent, and diesel by 7 percent, such as in this now deleted post (also posted as an attachment to this article) :
“Regarding last night’s internet rumors that loud noises in Beijing were caused by gunfire … actually the citizens of Beijing welcome the news that oil prices will rise and spontaneously gather in the streets to set off fireworks and celebrate. Don’t worry about a coup!”
Taiwan’s Want China Times cites political portal Mingjing News saying the coup may have been related to Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang and that Bo might have been trying to create a private army:
According to an unnamed Beijing source, Zhou Yongkang, a member of the elite nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, secretly promised to help Bo join him in the country’s most powerful decision-making body and take over his role as secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee. This would have allowed Bo to control the People’s Armed Police and Ministry of Public Security, and force Xi to step down before inserting himself in the vice president’s place as expected future general secretary, the source said.
Mingjing also reported that Bo, through Wang and in the name of Chongqing’s Public Security Bureau, purchased 5,000 rifles and 50,000 rounds of ammunition from a local munitions factory last year in order to create a private army. The People’s Armed Police has already been sent to Chongqing to investigate the whereabouts of the weapons, the report said.
Another Mingjing News “revelation” suggests that since Chinese New Year, Bo had been using his influence over domestic and international media to heighten attention on the forthcoming 18th CPC National People’s Congress, where Xi is expected to succeed Hu Jintao, current president and general secretary. Mingjing alleges that this was part of Bo’s inside-outside assault to destabilize Hu, Xi and Premier Wen Jiabao while inserting himself into the leadership conversation.
Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin — who continues to hold significant influence over the Chinese political landscape — is also believed to be involved in the Bo Xilai affair, according to Mingjing. Jiang has allegedly called Zhou a traitor for backing Bo and is said to have supported Hu and Wen’s presumed decision to remove him from positions of power. Jiang and former vice president Zeng Qinghong believe a smooth succession is critical to maintaining the stability of China’s political system and any dissent must therefore be quashed, Mingjing News wrote.
Mark MacKinnon of The Globe & Mail on why those coup rumours aren’t going away:
One of the truths of reporting on China is that few journalists, maybe none, can honestly claim to know what’s going on inside the upper echelons of power.
In other countries, you might see reporters offhandedly refer to their unnamed contacts inside the Prime Minister’s Office, or the White House, or whatever institution they’re covering. Even when I worked in famously enigmatic Russia, I had a few “Kremlin sources” I could occasionally turn to.
Not in China. I know many of the foreign journalists based here, and more than a few of the Chinese ones. None have ever claimed to me, or their readers, that they have a contact inside, or even close to, the decision-making Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.
Which, often, is to the credit of those who run this country. This is not a place where trial balloons get floated by cabinet ministers trying to build public support and win funding for their pet project, nor are China’s leaders crippled by the constant and public infighting that brought down Canada’s Liberal Party or Britain’s Labour, to name two prominent examples.