China’s top military newspaper has told troops to ignore rumours on the internet and steel themselves for “ideological struggle” — an apparent reference to talk of a coup as the ruling Communist party faces a leadership transition.
The Liberation Army Daily did not mention rumours of a foiled junta that spread on the internet in recent weeks after the ousting of Bo Xilai, an ambitious contender for a spot in the new central leadership structure to be settled later this year.
But in a sign of jitters in Beijing, the newspaper in a front-page commentary left no doubt the party leadership wants to inoculate People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops against rumours that could erode the authority of President Hu Jintao, who also serves as head of the party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, which commands the PLA.
Some websites and internet services were shut down or restricted as the regime rushed to stamp out the coup claims.
The paper exhorted soldiers to "resolutely resist the incursion of all kinds of erroneous ideas, not be disturbed by noise, not be affected by rumours, and not be drawn by undercurrents, and ensure that at all times and under all circumstances the military absolutely obeys the command of the party central leadership, the central military commission and Chairman Hu".
The commentary directed at the military follows other remarks aimed at reinforcing the party’s grip on opinion after an unsettling two months of political upheaval, at a time the leadership prizes stability.
In late March, the authorities shut 16 Chinese websites and detained six people accused of spreading rumours about unusual military movements and security in the capital, feeding talk of an attempted coup or schism in the leadership.
The rumours fed on speculation about the ousting of Bo Xilai, who in mid-March was removed as party boss of Chongqing in south-west China.