Beijing On Edge Amid Coup Rumors

The Chinese capital is awash with speculation, innuendo and rumors of a coup following the most important political purge in decades, with even some of the most well-informed officials in the dark about what comes next.


Since Bo Xilai, one of China’s most powerful leaders, was removed from his job last Thursday, the bureaucracy and the public have been on tenterhooks, awaiting the next twist in the gripping political saga.

Besides a one-line statement on Mr Bo’s dismissal published late last week, China’s heavily censored media have not mentioned his name, let alone provided any clues about what will happen to him.

But the country’s netizens, in particular those using hard-to-censor Twitter-like microblogs, have been flooding the internet with information ranging from highly implausible to apparently authentic.

In one rumor that spread rapidly on Monday night, a military coup had been launched by Zhou Yongkang, an ally of Mr Bo’s and the man in charge of China’s state security apparatus, and gun battles had erupted in Zhongnanhai, the top leadership compound in the heart of Beijing.

But when the Financial Times drove past the compound late on Monday night, all appeared calm and by Wednesday evening there was no indication that anything was out of the ordinary.

However, one person with close ties to China’s security apparatus said Mr Zhou had been ordered not to make any public appearances or take any high-level meetings and was “already under some degree of control”.

The same person said Mr Bo, who was Communist Party chief of Chongqing until last week, was under house arrest while his wife had been taken away for investigation into suspected corruption, a common charge leveled at senior officials who have lost out in power struggles.

Although this information could not be immediately confirmed, documents and audio recordings circulating on the internet appear to substantiate the claim that members of Mr Bo’s family were under investigation for corruption even before his trusted police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate and requested asylum in early February.

The documents and recording of a preliminary government report on the case, which Chinese officials say appear to be genuine and probably leaked intentionally, suggested Mr Wang fled after Mr Bo fired him and tried to arrest him to head off a corruption investigation.

Jon Huntsman, a former Republican presidential hopeful and US ambassador to China who met Mr Bo a number of times, said his demise revealed serious rifts among the top leadership of the country.

“The splits in the standing committee [over reform] are as pronounced now as they were during the [1989] Tiananmen Square period,” Mr Huntsman said. “Politics in China is a rough and tumble business. This is an open and public evidence of this and what happens behind the velvet curtain that the world never sees.”

Adding to the air of intrigue in the capital, a report of a fatal car crash on Sunday involving the son of a top leader and a Ferrari appeared on the internet but was quickly removed by official censors.

Netizens and one source with close ties to China’s top leaders said the illegitimate son of a politburo standing committee member was killed in the crash and two young women were badly hurt.