What the heck is going on in China?

Something weird is taking place in China but, as of this writing, nobody is quite sure what’s happening. Social media has lit up with information, some of which is verifiable and some of which is pure speculation. The most widely spread rumor is that there is a coup being carried out against Xi Jinping, but that’s also the least likely thing to be taking place according to experienced China watchers.

We know that, on Saturday, there were fewer commercial flights over Beijing than usual. There’ve also been rumors that trains and buses into and out of Beijing have been canceled, and claims that military vehicles have been seen heading for Beijing, although there’s no reliable provenance for that particular short video.

Image: Xi Jinping. YouTube video.

According to Newsweek, the most prominent source for the story is an Indian politician:

The rumor was also fueled by Indian politician Subramanian Swamy, who tweeted to his 10 million followers on Saturday: “New rumour to be checked out: Is Xi Jingping [sic] 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.”

However, on Friday, Drew Thompson, a former State Department official located in Singapore, wrote an extended and credible Twitter thread challenging the rumors:

There’s more, and you can read the whole thread here. By Saturday, Thompsom thought he had tracked down the original source of the rumor:

Meanwhile, Gordon Chang also thinks it’s unlikely that Xi is falling prey to a coup. However, given the oddities being reported about transportation around, into, and out of Beijing, Chang thinks that something is going wrong in China:

“There’s been a lot of smoke — that says there is a fire somewhere,” Chang told “Saturday Agenda.” “We don’t think that there has actually been a coup; but at this point there have been some extremely troubling developments at the top of the Communist Party, as well as the top of the People’s Liberation Army, which reports to the party.

“So something is terribly wrong.”


“Xi Jinping has jailed three figures, some of them for life sentences; so that by itself roils the situation. But the mere fact that someone is trying to destabilize the regime — and that’s really, I think, the source of these rumors — says that at this point, the regime itself is going through turmoil,” Chang said.

“They’re going to have their 20th national congress, which starts on the 16th of next month; and that’s where Xi Jinping either gets or doesn’t get his unprecedented third term as general secretary of the party: in other words, China’s ruler. And that means, I think, that we see some senior figures figure that they can try to give Xi Jinping a punch in the gut before then.”

Chang makes sense. China’s Zero COVID policy has been destabilizing, and there have been drastic problems in China’s real estate market, which makes up 30% of China’s economy. Xi may have as tight a grip as ever on power, but the entire Chinese infrastructure seems unstable.

On the one hand, China looks like an overwhelming behemoth, with a foot on every continent, money in every industry, and spies in every government. On the other hand, there’s always been a paper tiger quality to China’s managed economy. It’s been built on shoddy products, stolen technology and patents, and a lot of slave labor. It’s had the look of capitalism but, as long as it’s been managed from the top down, it has the instability of any socialist economy.

Things may be getting very interesting very soon. As I’ve said before, I’d love to see China’s wings clipped but, just as an American collapse would be bad for the world, were China suddenly to implode that would choke off the world’s supply chain and that’s not very good for any of us.

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