Where is Xi Jinping?

 
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping meets with Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, unseen, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 29 August, 2012 Nobody knows for certain why Mr Xi has been cancelling his meetings

China is the world's second biggest economy, its rising superpower, and is on the cusp of a once-in-a-decade leadership change, but the man expected to take over at the head of the Communist Party has vanished from view, and we don't know why.

Is Xi Jinping sick? Has he had a mild heart attack? Did he hurt his back playing football or swimming? Is he extraordinarily busy preparing for the day, probably next month, when he will be elevated to take over from Hu Jintao as the head of China's Communist Party, or is there some more sinister power struggle happening?

All have been suggested as explanations on China's buzzing social media sites.

It has even been claimed he was injured in a car crash, which was maybe a plot against him. But that seems fanciful.

However, nobody knows for certain because China's government is not saying, and that in itself is unsettling many.

When Communist party figures disappear from view it sometimes sends a signal that they are in trouble. There is no evidence that is the case now but, without a simple explanation, rumours have been swirling and they have broken into the open.

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Until Mr Xi appears again in public, the uncertainty won't abate”

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China's leaders often keep a low profile. Their movements are rarely announced in advance, and they may be out of sight for days at a time.

But Mr Xi, China's vice-president and the heir apparent, who is 59, has been cancelling meetings with visiting foreign leaders, which is unusual.

He was last seen on 1 September. He cancelled a meeting with Hillary Clinton at the last minute last Wednesday. American officials said they understood a back problem was the reason.

Danish sources said the next day, on Thursday, he cancelled again, this time on the visiting Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was due to meet him on Monday.

They couldn't say why. But Mr Xi has also cancelled on Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. China's leaders are usually sticklers for protocol, so calling off these events is highly unusual.

According to the Reuters news agency "a source close to the Beijing leadership" said that "Xi injured his back when he went for a daily swim... the source declined to give further details on the injury, including exactly when and where the incident took place."

A second source, "citing people close to Xi, told Reuters 'He's unwell, but it's not a big problem.'"

'Nothing to add'
File picture of Hong Lei, China's foreign ministry spokesman on 5 September, 2012 China's foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, says he had 'nothing new to add'

But given China's new status, its new weight as an economic and political power, such uncertainty is a problem. And if Mr Xi is about to take over as China's leader for the next 10 years his health is an issue that is significant for the Communist Party, for China and for the rest of the world.

China has undergone an extraordinary transformation in the past decade under Hu Jintao. But what has not changed is the secrecy surrounding its leaders. Their health, their personal lives, their families and much more are often hidden from view and that is increasingly difficult to sustain.

China's Foreign Ministry was unable to say where Mr Xi is or why he had been a no-show at so many events.

Asked repeatedly for an explanation, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said "I have already answered reporters' questions on this many times. I have nothing new to add."

What the whole affair has added is a fresh twist of uncertainty to China's coming leadership change. The handover has already been complicated by the scandal over the fall of Bo Xilai, who was tipped for a top post.

In China, where the Communist Party stage-manages its once in a decade leadership shuffle, ensuring a smooth succession is of the utmost importance.

Until Mr Xi appears again in public, the uncertainty won't abate.

But in a nation that is now a vital part of the global economy, integrated into global diplomacy, and whose citizens are wired up to the internet, the old-style secrecy surrounding the Communist Party and its leaders looks increasingly untenable.

 
Damian Grammaticas, China correspondent Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 75.

    Has any one looked up the Appalachian trail yet? Some one better check it out.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 74.

    It will be big news when Xi comes back from his mystery escape and he tells the Chinese that he is new leader of all China and North Korea.

    Yelp he is in NK making some big deals in secret.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 73.

    71. Sampan - "They get closeted with the advisers of the incumbent in order to be brought up to speed and it also prevents the new guy from being able to upstage the finale of the aforesaid incumbent."

    Yes, I believe that is exactly what is now happening.

    And the "new guy" then becomes seen in a new light, as the new leader.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 72.

    I suspect it is not anything nefarious, Xi Jinping is probably just taking a little time off before engaging in what will be an immensely difficult task ahead.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 71.

    Its not usual for Senior up and coming Officials to disappear from public view near to transition time.
    They get closeted with the advisers of the incumbent in order to be brought up to speed and it also prevents the new guy from being able to upstage the finale of the aforesaid incumbent.
    The cancelling of Clinton's meeting was a special snub to her and saying that as someone who will not be around in the next US administration irrespective of who wins it, she has no business speaking to the Chinese future, when she does not have one herself.

 

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