Uh, No One Knows Whether There Was a Coup in China?

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Here's the most disconcerting thing we've read this afternoon: an explainer from Mark MacKinnonThe Globe and Mail's China correspondent, on why reporters can't really nail down hard information about rumors of a coup in China. Wait, a coup in China? Implausible as it might sound, there have been rumors circulating that the world's most populous nation and the United States' largest foreign creditor may have switched leaders or something. The basis for the rumor is incredibly thin -- it all stems from news that Bo Xilai, a populist Communist leader, had been removed from his position -- but it has reached the point where major outlets like the Financial Times have weighed in. But MacKinnon explains that the story -- well, really, the hint of a story -- has continued to be passed around because of just how difficult it is to get any information out of the Chinese government:

I know many of the foreign journalists based here, and more than a few of the Chinese ones. None have ever claimed to me, or their readers, that they have a contact inside, or even close to, the decision-making Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China ... 

... [T]he wall of secrecy that Communist Party leadership has built around itself also prevents the development of trust between the government, media and public. It leaves the media with no one to talk to and get real information from when there’s a wild rumour floating about, like the continuing – and so far unfounded – talk that some kind of coup d’état was attempted Monday night in Beijing. And it leaves the public unsure of what to believe in such situations.

It sounds like McKinnon's article is as much an effort to get anyone in the Chinese government to just deny the report for him, something that'd be easy in most other countries, as it is to inform us that there's political unrest in China. As he concludes, "Maybe that distinction will convince someone in Zhongnanhai to ring me up – an off-the-record conversation is fine – to let me know what all the fuss was about on Monday night." We hope they do.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.