Over one hundred flights between Beijing and Shanghai were canceled in the afternoon of July 14, allegedly due to military exercises, according to state news media in China. Some netizens believe the flight cancellations may have been to prevent a high-ranking Communist Party official from fleeing.
The unusual cancellation of the majority of flights between Beijing and Shanghai took place without advance warning, Sina Finance reported. The very few flights available were three to four hours delayed, the report said.
China’s Air Traffic Management Bureau confirmed the information with an announcement on the day, saying “July 14, Shanghai Hongqiao airport and Pudong airport will have busy airspace from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Flights during that period are likely to be severely impacted. The flights are expected to return to normal at 2 a.m. the following day.” No explanation of the cause was given.
A staff member at an airline told Sina that the air traffic control was due to military exercises.
A notice, said to be produced by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), also bounced around the Internet saying: “Significant military activity is taking place from 10:00 to 16:00 in the east China (Shanghai) region. Notification has been given. Traffic capacity is expected to drop 75 percent during the activity period, a red warning… Airlines and airports, please focus on monitoring the operation of flights in the Shanghai region.” It was not possible to confirm the provenance of the notice.
Chinese Internet users, ever suspicious of the official explanation, questioned the claim that flights were canceled due to military exercises.
Ding Laifeng, a veteran media figure and the former deputy editor of China’s PR magazine, remarked on Sina Weibo: “It’s so confusing. First, it never happened in the past that military exercises took place between Beijing and Shanghai. Second, even if they are holding military exercises, why were the busiest flights forced to stop without any warning? Not only are people irritated, but it also caused huge losses. What really happened?”
An alternative scenario was widely circulated: the sudden, mass cancellation of flights was to prevent a high-level official from fleeing Shanghai.
This segued immediately into the suspicion that this figure may be Guo Boxiong, a former member of the Party’s Politburo and a retired vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the most powerful military body in China.
Jokes and rumors online said that Guo was stopped at customs when he attempted to flee disguised as a woman, using a fake female passport. Photoshopped pictures of Guo wearing a female wig were posted on Weibo by netizens. Other users questioned why, if Guo was intending to flee China, the authorities would close routes between Beijing and Shanghai.
Yet other alternative explanations for the cancellations said that the incident must have something to do with former paramount leader of China, Jiang Zemin, who is currently locked in a factional struggle with Xi Jinping. Xi is moving to systematically clean out Jiang’s remaining influence in the Party, state, and military, judging by the arrests, detentions, and prosecutions over the last 18 months. Jiang is believed to be located in Shanghai.
No official response has been made about the speculation that Guo may have attempted to flee. Officially there has been no recent announcement on Guo at all. The speculation that Guo would be punished for corruption came out earlier this year. Most recently, Hong Kong media Mingpao quoted a Beijing source saying that Guo’s son and daughter in-law were taken away by the authorities to “assist” in the investigation on Guo’s corruption.