‘Weaponized’ rumors? Anger over Shanghai lockdown may have sidelined Xi

FPI / May 18, 2022


Widespread anger over Covid lockdowns in China, including the financial hub Shanghai, has fueled rumors circulating on the mainland and overseas that supreme leader Xi Jinping, who only recently was given the power to essentially lead the communist nation for life, will step down from power.

If the rumor that Xi Jinping has or will step down turns out to be true, analysts say it could be similar to a ploy used by Mao Zedong in the early 1960s after the disastrous Great Leap Forward. / AP

The rumors followed a meeting last week of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, the collective leadership group that rules China.

The rumors were traced in part to a Chinese-language YouTube video posted on May 4 by Canadian-based blogger appearing under the persona “Lao Deng,” according to a Washington Times report by security correspondent Bill Gertz. Details of the video quickly spread to social media outlets in China but were quickly censored, according to the report.

The blogger, citing what he said was a senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) security source, said a “coup” was launched against Xi at the meeting of senior party leaders in Beijing. According to blog, Xi was forced to step aside but will stay in place until a major party meeting later this year.

Miles Yu, a former senior State Department policy planning official for China, said rumors in China, whether proven true or not, are often weaponized and used by feuding CCP factions in frequent power struggles.

“When the party as a whole caused a catastrophe in China, the regime usually needs to spread a rumored hope to have a better person emerge to save the party’s image,” said Yu, a former contributing editor for Geostrategy-Direct.

Current Premier Li Keqiang will reportedly take over daily management of the party and government.

The video included the headline “Shocking Coup: Xi Jinping Has Stepped Down; Li Keqiang is the New Master.”

Xi supposedly agreed to voluntarily step down and will not be held responsible for the current turmoil over lockdowns. Xi also is said to be voluntarily giving up power in part in order to avoid being put in prison.

The lockdowns in China, including in Shanghai, are part of Beijing’s “zero-Covid policy” that have angered large segments of China’s 1.4 billion people. Videos have circulated showing anti-government protests against forced quarantines and arrests and detention of people who test positive for the virus which originated in Wuhan, China.

The World Health Organization recently angered Chinese leaders by calling the zero-COVID policy “unsustainable.”

Xi has boasted of taking direct control of anti-pandemic measures.

An estimated 330 million Chinese are currently in health-related lockdowns in some 45 cities since March, even as restrictions on gatherings and travel in other developed countries are being lifted.

If the rumor that Xi has or will step down turns out to be true, analysts say it could be similar to a ploy used by Mao Zedong in the early 1960s after the disastrous Great Leap Forward. The backyard industrialization program led to the deaths of tens of millions of people from a government-caused famine.

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