Xi Jinping is rumoured to step down amid China’s harsh Covid-19 lockdown

Rumors circulating in Chinese and overseas Chinese social media that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has come under fire for imposing a COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai and elsewhere, will step down.

The rumors came after a meeting last week of the Politburo Standing Committee, the collective leadership group that rules China. On May 4, a Canadian blogger appeared as “Lao Deng” in a Chinese YouTube video. Details of the video quickly made its way to Chinese social media, but were quickly censored.

Citing what he said was a senior Communist Party security source, the blogger said a “coup” was launched against Xi Jinping at a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders in Beijing. According to the blog, Xi was forced to step down but will remain in place until a major party meeting later this year.

The current premier, Li Keqiang, will take over the day-to-day management of the party and government.

The video is titled “Shocking coup: Xi Jinping steps down; Li Keqiang is the new master.”

Xi Jinping is said to have agreed to step down voluntarily and will not be held responsible for the current blockade unrest.

A CIA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rumors in China are usually false. However, in some cases, information from rumors precedes actual events. Examples include reports of the arrest of Communist Party leaders of the “Gang of Four” following Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, and reports of the 2012 ouster of local Communist Party leader Bo Xilai on corruption charges.

In a country with little freedom of the press and tight government control over the media, rumors can be unofficial leaks. But several China analysts said rumors of a leadership change may not be true.

But they may reflect a power struggle within the party ahead of the upcoming secret meeting, or Xi Jinping’s deliberate disinformation campaign aimed at beautifying the party’s damaged image.

China’s blockade, including financial center Shanghai, has angered most of the country’s 1.4 billion people. Videos have circulated showing anti-government protests against mandatory quarantines and arrests and detentions of people who test positive for COVID-19.

The lockdown is key to Beijing’s draconian and controversial “zero coronavirus” policy, which aims to contain and eliminate the smallest signs of coronavirus infection through isolation and social control. The World Health Organization recently angered China’s leaders, calling the zero-coronavirus policy “unsustainable.”

Backlash against the government’s draconian approach is fueling widespread disgust with China’s leadership, including Xi Jinping, who has boasted of direct control over the fight against the virus. An estimated 330 million Chinese are currently under health-related lockdowns in about 45 cities since March, even as gathering and travel restrictions are being lifted in other developed countries.

Yu Wanli, a former senior State Council official on China policy planning, said Chinese rumours, whether true or not, are often weaponized and exploited by CCP parties in frequent power struggles.

“When the whole party causes disaster in China, the regime usually needs to spread rumors in the hope of a better person to save the party’s image,” Mr Yu said.

If the rumors are true, this could be a similar tactic used by Mao Zedong after his disastrous Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s. The backyard industrialization program resulted in tens of millions of deaths from government-induced famine.

At the time Mao Zedong was forced out of day-to-day management by party leaders, but remained the supreme leader.

“Within four years, Mao waged an even deadlier power struggle called the Cultural Revolution, toppling all the Communist Party leaders who forced him to step down,” Mr Yu said. “If the rumors are true, there is no reason for Xi Jinping not to repeat it while he is still in power.”

Jennifer Zeng, a China analyst in charge of the video coverage, said there were rumors that the transfer of power would be kept secret to give Xi Jinping time to correct his poor policies.

Xi Jinping is also said to have voluntarily relinquished power, in part to avoid jail time.

Ms Zeng said there were subtle signs of a possible leadership change in Beijing, but the rumours were dubious.

“I don’t think Lao Deng’s statement is credible, mainly for one reason,” she said in a video. “The reason is, he claims that Li Keqiang will carry out comprehensive political reforms after he comes to power, the CCP will ‘fade out’ the stage, and China will adopt and build a Western-style civilization.  …Isn’t that too good?

She said the rumours were more likely a reflection of a power struggle.

Xi’s opponents in the party are said to be orchestrated by the Chinese leader’s hard-line policies and his development of a Mao-like cult of personality. Xi is trying to break with the longstanding two-term presidency, seeking a third five-year term later this year.

Another hypothetical sign of the coup was the cancellation of a major May 4 speech by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, which was postponed after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Another indicator, according to a Chinese-language post on Twitter, was the removal of Xi Jinping’s books from a bookstore in Beijing.

Nor did the May 8 front page of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily feature a splendid photo of President Xi. Instead, only Prime Minister Lee, the Prime Minister and another party leader were mentioned.



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