Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made his first public appearance since returning from a trip to Central Asia, quashing unfounded rumors of a “coup” that sparked a frenzy of speculation ahead of a key Communist Party meeting.
According to state broadcaster CCTV, Xi on Tuesday visited an exhibition in Beijing showcasing China’s achievements over his decade in power.
On the network’s flagship evening newscast, Xi was shown wearing a face mask and viewing the displays at the Beijing Exhibition Hall where photos of him featured heavily. He was accompanied by Premier Li Keqiang and other top leaders, including all members of the party’s supreme Politburo Standing Committee.
Xi had not been seen in public since returning to Beijing from a regional summit in Uzbekistan on September 16. The visit was his first foreign trip in nearly 1,000 days since the beginning of the pandemic.
His absence gave rise to a swirl of online rumors, which claimed without evidence that he had been overthrown in a military coup and placed under house arrest.
The unsubstantiated rumors were further fueled by claims of mass flight cancellations a common occurrence under China’s zero-Covid restrictions and unverified videos of military vehicles on the road.
The wild speculation which originated from Chinese dissident networks before being picked up and amplified by Indian media was so intense that the hashtag “chinacoup” was trending on Twitter over the weekend.
Xi is just weeks away from the 20th Party Congress beginning October 16, at which he is widely expected to break with tradition and be appointed to a third term in power, further cementing his status as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.
Rumors of political infighting and power struggles have long haunted Chinese elite politics thanks to its lack of transparency, especially in the lead-up to important events such as the five-yearly leadership reshuffle.
Editing by Tersoo Nicholas