'Does Xi Jinping Face a Coup Threat?'

Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

Malcolm Riddell




Jude Blanchette | CSIS & Dan Mattingly | Yale

'Does Xi Jinping Face a Coup Threat?'
'Does Xi Jinping Face a Coup Threat?'






Xi is Safe

‘So if you're an autocrat, you really have to be nervous about what's the military doing and is the military coming after me?’

Listen to the 36m podcast – fascinating insights into Xi and China political/military system

<div><iframe frameborder="0" height="auto" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%" style="min-height: 200px;"></iframe></div>

Jude Blanchette: ‘I want it to start with actually the very first sentence of the paper where you write: “Autocratic rule is a violent business.” Why is it a violent business?’

Dan Mattingly: ‘If you are an autocrat, who do you have to fear? Like what keeps you up at night? If you are not just Xi Jinping, but any autocrat.'

  • ‘In the popular imagination, what an autocrat has to fear unrest. He has to fear protestors in the street, storming the gates and taking him down.’

‘Generally though, what has led to the unconstitutional exit of authoritarian leaders from office isn't mass protest, isn't mass uprising - instead it's coups; it's other elites taking down the leader. And that's really what autocrats have to worry about.’

  • ‘A study shows that almost 70% of leaders in the post-war period of autocratic leaders when they've exited office has been because of coups.’
  • ‘And so it's this fear of other elites that's really important.'

'And who launches coups and what are coups successful nine and 10 times a successful coup is by the military.’

  • ‘So if you're an autocrat, you really have to be nervous about what's the military doing and is the military coming after me?’

‘If you look at Chinese history, you want to go back before the Chinese Communist Party, go back before 1949.’

  • ‘Look at Imperial China, something like a fifth of Chinese emperors were killed in office and another fifth were deposed by other elites.’

‘Before the CCP came to power in 1949, these were things the Chinese political system has had to deal with.’

  • ‘The CCP of course, is way different than Imperial China and has been successful to date in fending off coups.’
  • ‘What's the secret sauce that the CCP has that has avoided attempted coups.’

‘If you take a kind of broad view of different types of authoritarian regimes, one-party regimes like China under the CCP are generally more stable, more resilient, less likely to experience a coup.’

  • ‘Military dictatorships – and China is by no means a military dictatorship - are more vulnerable to coups than one-party systems like China.’

Jude: ‘There's been speculation that there are elements we can't see within the system who are hiding their brightness and biding their time, waiting for Xi Jinping to royally screw up.’

  • ‘Has Xi Jinping's ability to promote and support, and to essentially reshape the senior leadership of the military decreased the likelihood of coup?’
  • ‘Is this a guy who is now kind of like Stalin after the purges, where he is wiped the table clean, and now it's just a matter of running out the clock until he has a stroke.’
  • ‘What is your assessment of that big question of Xi Jinping's consolidation of power and strength in the system?’

Dan:‘That's the million dollar question.'

  • ‘You can't completely rule it out, with this caveat: I do think that he's done enough so that it makes it really hard to launch a successful military coup against him.'
  • ‘Between promoting people who are loyal to him and promoting left-behind officers who aren't well connected to other civilian elites and other military elites, he's done enough on the military side to make it hard to get military buy-in for a coup to occur.'

‘And there are a number of other factors that push against it.'

  • ‘Number one is a real sense of unity and national force that Xi Jinping has effectively stoked by first painting the United States as a threat to China.'
  • ‘Number two is the rhetoric about the role of the Party as an important force in China's very revival.'
  • ‘Number three is Xi's laser focus on making sure the military is loyal.'
Go to