NightWatch: Rumors of China Coup not Plausible

Night Watch
Posted: Mar 23, 2012 12:01 AM

China: In the past week, Chinese blogs have spread rumors of anti-government action by the supporters of Bo Xilai, the former party secretary for Chongqing who is almost openly a Maoist, instead of a communist-capitalist. Bloomberg reported a jump in credit default swaps (CDS) owing to the coup rumors.

Comment: The rumors arose from unconfirmed reports of gunfire in Beijing since last Thursday. Private citizens may not possess guns in China. Thus bloggers and analysts have strained to provide an explanation for the reported gunfire exchanges, which might not have happened.

What is known is that Bo Xilai has not been seen in public since his summary ouster last Thursday, which is not unusual. Additionally, a large number of Chinese internet users apparently judge reports of gunfire between powerful political factions to be plausible, which is surprising considering Chinese gun controls.

An analysis of the phenomenology of coups d'etat indicates there has been no coup and that it is extremely difficult to overthrow a collective leadership structure by a coup d'etat.  There are six essential components of a coup. If any of them are absent, there is no coup.

The six components of all coups, including Musharraf's in Pakistan in 1999; Bainimarama' s in Fiji in 2006; Colonel Vall's coup in Mauritania in 2008; the Ben Ali coup in Tunisia in January 2011 and the Tantawi coup against Mubarak in 2011, are,

• the existence of a gripe--a motive to overthrow the government;

• the formation of an insider opposition group that opposes the government in power;

• that group's access to guns;

• that group's formulation of a plan;

• its access to transportation; and,

• an opportunity-- most often the absence of the head of state from the national capital.

Applying this template to the China rumors, based on open source reporting, two, possibly three, of the six common characteristics are in evidence. These are the existence of a group with a gripe.

The group with the gripe is the followers of Bo Xilai, in Chongqing and beyond. Maoist sympathizers are likely to reside in Beijing and many other cities, but no reporting or behavior indicate they  formulated a plan or developed the capability to hold hostage the nine members of the standing committee of the politburo; nor acquired enough guns to hold off a counter move by the forces loyal to the existing political order.

The coup reporting is simply not credible, if only because it is extremely difficult to capture all the members of a collective leadership and to suppress their supporters in other cities. 

The fact of the rumors, however, indicates Chinese bloggers are willing to credit reports that are hostile to the leadership, until they are disproven. That signifies that Chinese persons who are knowledgeable and adept in using social media and the internet have little confidence in the stability of their political system. 

India: India plans to explore a route from Afghanistan through Pakistan to transport iron ore both by truck and by pipeline, Steel Authority of India Chairman CS Verma said, on 21 March. India has made a commitment to develop the Hajigak mines in Afghanistan and accompanying 6-million-ton steel plant, Verma said. Work will begin in late 2014.

Comment: A contract is to be signed in two months in what will be the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan's resources sector, at least a $1million more than the $4.4 billion the Chinese are investing in the Aynak copper mine.

A major snag in the program is the requirement to obtain Pakistani cooperation for ore shipments from Afghanistan to India, but across Pakistan. Pakistani cooperation may be bought, but the price could be worthwhile because of the high grade of the iron ore.

Pakistan: A major parliamentary review of relations with the United States opened on 20 March with calls for an end to drone strikes and for an unconditional apology for an American attack that killed Pakistani soldiers last November.

Pakistani media reported that the demands, read to Parliament by the chairman of a cross-party national security committee, set a tough tone for a long-awaited debate over unilateral US drone attacks in Pakistan and the prospects for reopening NATO supply lines through Pakistan.

"The US must review its footprints in Pakistan," according to an official, five-page document, which listed Pakistani requests to the Obama administration to stop the drone attacks. "No overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be tolerated."

Comment: Parliamentary action represents a delayed response to the killing of bin Laden last May as well as the attack last November.

Parliamentary intervention provides the Gilani government the cover to walk away from any cooperation agreements made by Musharraf and an opportunity to reset the direction of future cooperation.

Egypt: Update. Spokesmen for the Muslim Brotherhood made two important announcements on 21 March. An unidentified spokesman said the Brotherhood was reconsidering its pledge to not run a Brotherhood candidate in the presidential election on 23 and 24 May 2012. The Brotherhood has not endorsed anyone who has announced his candidacy nor announced its own candidate.

The second announcement is that the Brotherhood wants the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip opened to unrestricted trade.

Comment: Little-by-little every promise the Brotherhood made about staying out of Egyptian politics is failing, invariably for a variety of reasons. The result has been a steady increase in Brotherhood authority, power and respect plus a steady erosion of civilian secular influences in Egyptian politics.

The opening of full border trade has appeared to be a matter of when, not whether, after the Brotherhood achieved an electoral victory in the Egyptian parliament.

Mali: Troops attacked the presidential palace in Bamako hours after staging a mutiny. They exchanged gunfire with soldiers loyal to the government. A defense ministry official said that a coup d'etat was under way. News services reported "heavy" gunfire in Bamako during the day and armored vehicle deployments to protect the presidential palace.

The mutineers charge that the government is not giving them enough arms to battle a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs. The Tuaregs have forced the army out of several northern towns in recent months. There have been no reports of casualties.

Comment: The mutineers do not appear to have captured the president. However, their accusations of a failure of support appear to be accurate in light of the loss of several northern towns to Tuareg rebels.

Lack of logistics support, however, most likely is the complaint for public consumption. It probably camouflages a much longer list of army complaints, including late or no pay.

Applying the NightWatch coup template, the actions in Bamako thus far confirm the existence of an anti-government group in the army that has a major gripe against the government. It also has access to arms and vehicles and has given some thought to a plan for taking control, by moving against the presidential palace.

The plan is clearly inadequate because the normal target set for a successful overthrow also includes capturing the national leaders plus the national radio and television stations and any other means of outside communication. A move against the presidential palace is necessary, but not sufficient to overthrow the government unless it has inside support that neutralizes the presidential guards and the rest of the army.

The major uncertainties are whether the Presidential Guard remains loyal to the President; the relative capabilities of the pro- and anti-government forces in the Army, and the actions of the political leadership.

All things being equal - which they never are, the faction with the most and most effective guns will win. At this point, the relative capabilities of the opposing forces are not clearly described in open source media. In fact, as described, the action looks less like a coup than like a violent protest, which should be negotiable.

End of NightWatch

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