Xi Jinping's Position is Secure But Growing Gloom Will Have Impact
The following is an excerpt of Nathan Levine and Johanna Costigan's op-ed originally published in Nikkei Asia.
A week ago, Western social media platforms were flooded with lurid rumors that Chinese President Xi Jinping had been deposed in a coup.
The rumor was baseless, but it was just the latest episode of Chinese language posts fueling reports that Xi will meet his political end soon. In one version, Xi will be forced to step down, and Premier Li Keqiang will take up the reins.
In another, Xi remains but with his influence considerably circumscribed by a shadowy faction led by Li. Xi's visit to Kazakhstan last month was earlier said to be the occasion for a military coup.
What has precipitated this rumor mill?
The occasion for this excitability is the year's most important political event in the country, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, approaching in mid-October. There, the party's top leadership for the next five years will be determined.
The party congress has always been a time for speculation. But encouraged in part by some lightly sourced reporting in the international press, Chinese netizens have this year let their thoughts and, perhaps more tellingly, their hopes run wild.
At the Asia Society Policy Institute's Center for China Analysis, we have watched these rumors spread over the last half-year while developing an extensive interactive database of the country's top leadership and their factional networks and hidden relationships.
Our conclusion is that the chances are infinitesimally small that Xi will fail to secure a third term as party leader. Nevertheless, it is entirely understandable why the rumor mill both in China and in the West is churning out predictions of his political demise.
The Chinese people have had a difficult few years as Xi has tightened his political control over every level of life in the country. Meanwhile, the leadership faces mounting challenges on nearly every front. Almost everyone pondering the future of the country today has good cause to see China as a tottering amalgamation of encroaching emergencies that the party is either ignoring or making worse.