The Debate

More on China Coup Rumors

Hu Jintao may not be as popular with the military as Jiang Zemin. That doesn’t mean there will be a coup.

I wrote at the weekend about the rumors that have been circulating about the possibility of a coup in China, talk that has prompted the government to shutter more than a dozen websites seen as facilitating the rumors. I asked June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at theUniversity of Miami and an expert on the Chinese military, for her take on what’s been going on.

She told me:

“Since the rumor mill was full of reports of tanks in the street, even though no one claimed to have personally seen any of them, I imagine that the denizens of Zhongnanhai (Chinese Communist Party headquarters), always nervous about public opinion, sought to reassure both army and civilians that the rumors had no basis in fact. If tanks really were in the street, People’s Liberation Army people must have been driving them, hence the army was ipso facto involved, hence…you can fill in the rest.

“Despite the fact that he’s been able to appoint generals for at least six years now – eight if you count the time he was president and party general secretary even though not Central Military Commission chair – and has surely tried to appoint only people he feels are loyal to him, President Hu Jintao has never appeared to be as popular with the PLA as Jiang Zemin. Even though the PLA was initially very skeptical of Jiang, he won them over: raised PLA pay, created more three-star billets, and made highly publicized visits to military units stationed in areas of difficult weather.  I haven’t noticed Hu doing this.  Plus, Hu’s robotic personality doesn’t lend itself to eliciting warm feelings.

“The military is surely one of the more patriotic segments of Chinese society. Since “left” in China has become synonymous with patriotism and the values (as seen through the haze of nostalgia) of the Maoist era, the military is likely to be sympathetic with the singing of red songs. Indeed, I’ve often seen PLA choruses performed in concerts of patriotic music on TV – the military would presumably be sympathetic to Bo Xilai’s red songs campaign, and to his war on corruption as well.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t also regard him as overly ambitious, as most other Chinese seem to.  Or that they would object to having him removed from the line of succession.  As far as I know, Bo has no particular guanxi with the military, either.

“Bottom line: I consider a military coup a highly unlikely possibility.  But perhaps this simply reflects a lack of imagination on my part…”