PRESIDENT Xi Jinping is suffering from a deadly brain aneurysm, reports claim - as he faces a coup over China's devastating Covid lockdowns.
The Chinese president, 68, reportedly wanted to be treated with traditional medicine rather than undergo major surgery after he was rushed to hospital.
According to news agency ANI, Xi suffered the "cerebral aneurysm" at the end of 2021.
Rumours about the state of Xi's health have been swirling for years, with fresh speculation sparked by his unexplained absence from the Beijing Winter Olympics.
In March 2019, during a visit to Italy and France, Xi was spotted with a noticeable limp and needing help while trying to sit down.
And addressing the public in Shenzhen in October 2020 - at the height of the Covid pandemic - observers noted his slow speech and coughing.
Fears of a coup over Xi's extreme Covid lockdown measures have also been mounting.
Instead of learning to live with the virus, the totalitarian regime's response to the pandemic is to instead aim to have zero cases with tightly shut borders, mass testing and sweeping quarantines.
China's brutal strategy sees extreme restrictions imposed on towns and cities with just a handful of infections, with entire buildings sealed off even if only one case has been recorded as those who test positive are shipped off to horror quarantine camps.
And this week, the Politburo Standing Committee warned people not to question the strict policies that have locked down cities across the country.
Most read in US News
At the same time, Premier Li Keqiang sounded the alarm over China's "complicated and grave" employment situation in China caused by the lockdown measures.
Small businesses have suffered, with 4.37million closing in China while only 1.32milion new ones registered, according to Tianyancha, a business data and investigation platform.
But the mixed messages from China's government chiefs has raised questions over whether there's a split brewing at the top as question marks hang over how sustainable Xi's hardline strategy is.
Xi and Li were once considered rivals for the top job, Bloomberg reports.
Richard McGregor, author of the The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, said: "It is probably a stretch to say that Xi and Li are personally at loggerheads, but their statements do represent divergent views within the system on Covid and its impact.
"China is reaching the point where the need for a genuine debate about whether the price being paid for further lockdowns is worth the economic damage."
Experts have already claimed Xi could be ousted by rivals fed up with the country's regime within the next 18 months.
Roger Garside - author of China Coup: The Great Leap to Freedom - said Xi will be booted out by internal opponents within the Chinese Communist Party in a coup in Beijing.
The former diplomat believes the main threat to Xi will come from "within the top ranks" of the Communist Party.
He said China's zero-Covid policy could be Xi's undoing as his overblown strategy has "locked the country into isolation" from the rest of the world.
Mr Garside believes the Communist regime has backed China into a corner as its drastic zero-tolerance approach could "implode upon them or cause a political crisis".
He said the hardline policy could inflict "heavy costs" on China's economy and society as citizens grapple with fast-spreading outbreaks and unemployment as businesses are forced to close.
He told The Sun Online: "It is conceivable that their Covid-19 strategy will implode upon them or cause a political crisis."
Already in 2017, a top Chinese official claimed several top members of the Communist Party were plotting to seize power from Xi.
It led to a corruption crackdown which saw the arrests of three party members, BBC reported.
A health chief also claimed Xi could be overthrown if scientists proved Covid escaped from a Wuhan lab.
Jamie Metzl told LBC last year: "In China, if it was absolutely proven, I think there is a real chance Xi Jinping could be overthrown.
"There would be claims for reparations around the world against China.
"It would be a massive geopolitical blow to that country.
"Just think of the anger of everyone around the world who has lost a spouse, a child, parents, would feel."