Since late Friday rumors of a possible coup attempt in China stormed social media platforms across the world. Within 24 hours the rumors had become so prevalent that #ChinaCoup and related hashtags were trending on Twitter and news of the alleged coup went viral. The first reports spoke of long columns of People’s Liberation Army vehicles seen on the highways in and around Beijing. These were followed up by posts indicating airspace in and around Beijing and other areas of China had been shut down and all train and bus travel was cancelled. On Saturday, the real meat and potatoes of the coup rumors broke out stating ‘reliable sources’ had confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping was under house arrest and the military had taken over control of the city.
Naturally, credible news sources reported nothing of a coup or the arrest of Jinping. Mainly because there was no coup attempt and Jinping was not under house arrest. Social media took the unconfirmed news and ran with it, as social media has a tendency of doing. The topic grew in popularity throughout Saturday and only started to diminish once it became clear through credible sources that nothing of concern was going on in Beijing or elsewhere in China.
As for what started the rumors, this remains unknown for now. Events last week inside of China could’ve inspired the rather creative coup news. While Jinping was at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Uzbekistan, two former ministers were sentenced to death and four other former officials were sentenced to life in prison as part of Jinping’s heavy-handed crackdown on corruption in Chinese politics. This was followed by Jinping departing from public view upon his return from the SCO meeting.
The China coup rumors highlight an ever-present danger of social media. It does not take very much for erroneous news to trend and appear legitimate. In these times of uncertainty, widespread fake news and rumors on social media could result in violence, damage, and loss of life in the real world. Or worse. Unfortunately, social media is also quite vulnerable to being weaponized by a nation-state for its own needs and interests. As we move deeper into the 2020s, the probability of this happening at some point in the near future is increasing.
There has been a considerable amount of maneuvering by the People’s Republic of China, and India over the weekend on the South Asia/Western Pacific gameboard. Each nation-state’s moves are calculated to widen and expand contemporary avenues aimed at mid to long term strategic national goals.
For China, their latest move appears designed to give off the impression of de-escalation in the Ladakh region. The People’s Liberation Army has moved 10,000 of its troops out of rear areas in in the area of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Sources have confirmed the movement from training areas traditionally used by PLA forces in eastern Ladakh, located roughly 100 miles beyond the Indian area of the LAC. The troops had been there since April, a short time before tensions in that area started to rise. It is worth mentioning that although the Chinese troops are departing, their heavy equipment will remain in place.This raises the possibility that the purpose of the move is logistics. Maintaining a large force in a region with such extreme winter weather is difficult, to say the least. Another caveat to the troop movement is that China is not pulling troops off of the frontline positions. The balance of forces along the LAC will remain unchanged.
Author’s Note: Apologies. Half way through writing this I became slightly ill and have decided to cut the entry short. I will put up a second part on Tuesday. Again, very sorry. Seems like the chemo side effects aren’t entirely out of my system yet.
The foreign ministers of India and China met in Moscow today as a sidebar to the ongoing Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Moscow. India’s senior diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met for two-and-a-half hours as both sides attempt to calm the situation after hostilities flared up earlier in the week along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Monday’s standoff along the south bank of Pangong Tso Lake is responsible for bringing tensions to a near-boil. Chinese troops armed with spears and rifles approached Indian forward outposts and attempted to spark a physical fight. During the standoff shots were fired, the first time in 45 years that firearms have been discharged along the LAC. Just who fired the shots is unknown. China claims it was Indian troops who fired shots after ‘crossing the LAC.’ Predictably, India blames Chinese troops for firing the shots when they were forced to retreat.
Up to the time of the meeting today, Indian and Chinese military activity along the LAC continued. Indian troops occupied the heights that overlook Chinese positions at Finger 4. Taking control of the high ground, always an advantage in land warfare, is doubly advantageous in the rugged, mountain terrain of the LAC. Meanwhile, Indian and Chinese brigade-level commanders held ‘interactions’ in Eastern Ladakh. The purpose is to keep the lines of communications open even in the midst of a flareup.
So, diplomats and army officers from both sides continue to deliberate, and hold discussions. At the same time, military units continue to maneuver on the ground. The question is whether or not China will continue its strategy of subtle territorial pecks along the LAC. The potential for an armed conflict remains relatively high in the area even as both sides profess their desire to settle the crisis through diplomatic means.
The disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating India and China was the scene of a flare over the weekend and into today. The area of contention is Pangong Tso Lake, which has traditionally been considered to be inside of Indian territory. On Saturday night the Chinese attempted to land troops on the southern bank of the lake, prompting a buildup of Indian troops, and a standoff. So far, the confrontation has not turned physical. Troops from both sides stood in close proximity and yelling at each other. There have been no reports of injuries. The Indian Defense Ministry described the incident in a statement released earlier today, saying the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had “violated the previous consensus” and “carried out provocative military movements” near Pangong Tso Lake, in the remote Ladakh region.
China claims it has done nothing wrong. A representative from the PLA’s Western Theater Command accused the Indian military of a “blatant provocation” and wrecking the agreement both sides had reached over illegal incursions in the area. The officer demanded that India withdraw its forces and maintain control of its frontline troops.
Although this incident was nowhere near as deadly clash that occurred in June between Indian and Chinese troops along the same area of the LAC, it is disconcerting. A considerable amount of diplomatic effort has gone into calming tensions and establishing a sincere dialogue between the Indian and Chinese militaries. However, this latest flareup shows us that the LAC area remains a point of contention. It also leads to questions about how much influence China’s internal troubles are having on Beijing’s recent moves abroad.
That is a subject worth exploring more later this week. 😊