In the last week of September 2022, the internet became alive with rumors of something happening in China even though there has been no official version announced anywhere. Citizens of the internet started guessing that there has been a political or military coup against the current President Xi Jinping. There are also reports of potential military activity in Western China. The discussions are finding ground based on the evidences of reports of canceled passenger flights in certain regions of China. The reports are also based on the fact that President Xi has not been seen in public for some time. There has also been reports of military vehicles moving in the direction of Beijing which is the capital of China. In the absence of official confirmation, it is now possible for various stories and theories to take different versions and spread like news. However, the fact remains that something is happening in China which people are not used to seeing and hence are not easily accepting it as normal.
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The below tweet shows military vehicles heading to Beijing. Starting from Huanlai County near Beijing and ending in Zhangjiakou City in Hebei Province.
The below tweet shows flights to Lhasa Gonggar are being canceled. It could not however be verified that the cancelations are due to the coup or due to COVID restrictions. Nearly 60% of flights across China were canceled recently. Flight Master said about 9,583 flights has been canceled in Chian nationwide. Flight Master is a service based in Shenzen which provides information on flights, ticketing, and related travel services. The Beijing Capital International Airport canceled 622 flights, the Shanghai Pudong International Airport canceled 652 flights, and the Shenzhen Baoan Airport Canceled 542 flights. The airports with the highest cancelations include 3 from the western provinces of China - the Guiyang Longdongbao Airport (in Guizhou Province) where 539 flights were canceled, the Lhasa Gongga Airport (in Tibet) where 157 flights were canceled, and the Chengdu Tianfu Airport (in Sichuan Province) where 752 flights were canceled. There were other Chinese airports as well which saw cancelations - the Urumqi Diwobao Airport (in Xinjiang) where 476 flights were canceled, the Tianjin Binhai International Airport (near Beijing) where 353 flights were canceled, the Harbin Taiping Airport (in Heilongjiang Province) where 275 flights were canceled, the Xi’an Xianyang International Airport (in Shaanxi Province) where 555 flights were canceled, the Nanjing Lukou International Airport (in Jiangsu Province) where 378 flights were canceled, and the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (in Guangdong Province) where 560 flights were canceled.
Many experts on China have said there are no official information about a coup other than on social media. There was a high level meeting on National Defence and Military Reform in Beijing on Wednesday but President Xi Jinping was not present in it even though he was back to China from Uzbekistan. In that meeting was Army Commander Liu Zhenli, and General Li Qiaoming, in charge of the Theatre Command of the North. China expert Aadil Brar has mentioned that President Xi Jinping is likely on quarantine after the trip to Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit. Aadil Brar also shared more flight data that showed there is no disruption of flights in China. China expert Aadil Brar also shared visuals of senior Chinese officials which shows that the Chinese government is functioning normally.
Xi Jinping House Arrest
President Xi Jinping has not been seen for a few days actively which has led to believe he is placed in house arrest. However, journalist Zakka Jacob highlighted that President Xi has powerful constitutional hold on China that makes a coup unlikely. The People's Liberation Army in China comes under the Central Military Commission. President Xi is the head of this Commission because he is the General Secretary of the Communist Party in China.
The Chinese army belongs to the Communist Part in China and not the government. Similar views were shared by journalist and author Ananth Krishnan regarding a coup in China and the house arrest of President Xi Jinping. There are popular large news outlets like the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong which has not reported of anything this significant in China. There has been reports as below that the cancelations of flights are under military directive of the air traffic control authority. This gives instructions to civil aviation management. The airspace is set aside apparently so that military aircraft can fly at will.
Details of the Rumor
There has been information though from News Highland Vision that former Chinese President Hu Jintao and former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has requested Song Ping (former member of the Politburo Standing Committee) to take the control of the Central Guard Bureau (CGB) from President Xi Jinping. The Central Guard Bureau is a specialized organization which is assigned the job of protecting the senior party members including President Xi Jinping, their families, and other foreign dignitaries. The rumors claimed that after the control of CGB was taken away from President Xi Jinping, the Politburo Standing Committee abolished President Xi's military authorities. When President Xi Jinping returned to Beijing hearing this news, the rumors claimed he was apprehended at the airport on September 16th and put under house arrest at Zhongnanhai. All the important headquarters of the different branches like the Chinese Communist Party, the State Council of China, and the office of the Chinese Premier are located at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. The rumor mentioned that current situation in China is controlled by Hu Jintao who is a former president of the People's Republic of China.
CNN journalist Frida Ghitis also reported on the ongoing rumor that there is little evidence to support the fact of a coup. However, the flight cancelations remain a mystery. There has also been reports of flights in China which were canceled due to a planned military exercise.
What is House Arrest in China?
There have been few news reports on house arrests of family members of activists China. Chinese law enforcement’s usage of house arrests, often termed as residential surveillance, has risen under President Xi Jinping. This was found by research by Safeguard Defenders, which is a non-profit focused on the rule of law in China. For example, after Shi Minglei’s husband Cheng Yuan was arrested in July 2019 on subversion charges, Chinese authorities informed Shi Minglei that she too would be placed under residential surveillance. The reason was in suspicion of similar offenses. However, Shi Minglei had never worked for any non-governmental organization and was not clear on these charges - she said in an interview. However, officers continued to state that she was a person of interest in the investigation and her personal details had to be handed over. Shi Minglei remained in house arrest for 180 days. The Safeguard Defenders group estimate that over 250,000 officially approved instances of house arrests take place each year in China, which is up from a fewer than 10,000 in 2013.
The Chinese legal scholars explain that residential surveillance is a measure taken which is less harsh than pretrial detention which would otherwise prove more invasive. However, Safeguard Defenders suggest that the house arrest concept is sometimes misused and even used to threaten or silence Chinese activities and their family members. Peter Dahlin is the director of Safeguard Defenders. He mentioned it has become a flexible tool that the police can use however they want. The revisions to China's criminal procedure law in 2012 and 2018 has made the residential surveillance measures more invasive. This is due to the fact that there is now minimal judicial review requirements. The Safeguard Defender's tally of such official residential surveillance numbers in the Supreme Court's online judgment database shows a rise from 5,549 in 2013 to 40,184 in 2020. This represents only a portion since not all residential surveillance cases are logged in the database. Politically sensitive cases are often not included in the database.
Tang Jingling is a Chinese human rights lawyer who sees house arrest as a tool to eliminate civil resistance. Tang Jingling was detained in 2011 on suspicion of inciting subversion - and his wife Wang Yangting was placed under house arrest for several months. Residential surveillance or house arrest is said to be sitting on a type of tools that China uses for monitoring and controlling target dissidents. Vacationing is one of the benign tool when security agents swiftly escort high-profile activists to remote regions of the country, so they cannot stage protests. One of the more severe tools used by China as compared to vacationing is detention and interrogation with minimal oversight. This allows abuse and torture as alleged by human rights groups. This often includes residential surveillance in a designated location as pretrial detention. Here police can hold a suspect for up to 6 months in off-book location, including places like converted hotel rooms termed by activists as black jails.