China’s president Xi Jinping made his first public appearance in days on state television on Tuesday, putting to rest rumours of a “coup” sparked after his absence from media since his trip to central Asia.
The president appeared on CCTV during his visit to an exhibition in Beijing on the theme of “Forging Ahead into the New Era”, aimed at showcasing the country’s achievements under his leadership. Wearing a face mask, he attended the exhibition alongside premier Li Keqiang and several other top leaders.
President Xi had been out of public sight since returning from a regional summit in Uzbekistan on 16 September. While the pandemic regulations in the country require him to stay in quarantine for a week, his absence paved the way for unsubstantiated rumours of a silent coup unfolding against him.
The speculations swirling on social media were so strong that the hashtag “Chinacoup” began trending on Twitter over the weekend. An Indian media outlet, Republic Bharat, fell for a sarcastic thread by a Beijing correspondent for German news outlet Der Spiegel that originally aimed at busting fake news circulation.
Mocking the coup rumours, Georg Fahrion had tweeted images of everyday life going on as normal in Beijing, joking that he had undertaken his investigation “at considerable personal risk”. But the Hindi news channel failed to see the joke, instead using Fahrion’s pictures as “exclusive” evidence of an ongoing coup.
President Xi is widely considered China’s most powerful leader, with no active challenger to his rule. It is also not unusual for Chinese leaders to drop out of public sight to attend informal meetings. In July, the president was out of the media glare for more than a week, after returning from a short trip to Hong Kong, reported CNN.
However, the latest absence came ahead of a key party congress held once every five years. He is expected to receive a third five-year term as party leader at the congress which begins mid-October.
Suggesting that there is nothing to be read into his brief absence, China politics expert Kerry Brown said, “if there was deep dissatisfaction with Xi’s leadership in the elite... we would have seen at least a bit of evidence”.
“And I don’t think we’ve seen much evidence of that,” added Mr Brown, professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London.
“I think it’s wishful thinking maybe in Hong Kong and elsewhere. I wouldn’t think it very credible."
Additional reporting from the wires