Rumours rife over mystery absence of presumptive president

Tue, Sep 11, 2012, 01:00

HAS CHINA’S president-in-waiting put his back out playing football? Anyone who saw him kicking a ball in Croke Park in February knows he does like to play.

Or did a swimming injury force Xi Jinping, (59) to cancel meetings last week in Beijing with the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong? Or is there something even more sinister afoot? Where is Xi Jinping?

Overseas Chinese websites and domestic bulletin boards became even more restive when a scheduled meeting between Mr Xi and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was cancelled. Officials said the meeting was never intended to take place.

This kind of cancellation is extremely unusual, especially at a time of great sensitivity like now, just before the 18th party congress next month which is supposed to start the transition of power to the Xi era. So intense is the secrecy, we do not even know for sure when the transition will take place, and Mr Xi has never been formally named as successor.

“Barring Xi himself offering a very unlikely explanation today about his cancelled meetings last week, the outside world may never know the exact reason and the rumours are unlikely to fade away,” Wang Xiangwei, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, wrote in a commentary.

In the absence of real information about political manoeuvring, China is rife with rumour about the movements among the political elite. Economic data this week has shown the Chinese economy is slowing down significantly, adding to the overall sense of insecurity.

The US-based website Boxun. com claimed Mr Xi had been injured in an attempted revenge plot by supporters of purged former party high-flyer Bo Xilai. The posting said he and another member of the all-powerful politburo standing committee, He Guoqiang, had been injured in staged traffic accidents as part of a broader plot. The posting was subsequently taken down but the discussion had started.

All that has been seen of Mr Xi is an article written about a speech he gave more than a week previously. Perhaps he is busy marshalling support among the various factions in these crucial weeks before the congress. Rivalry for a place on the nine-member standing committee of the politburo is intense.

Or perhaps the committee will be expanded to 11 seats – or cut to seven seats. No one knows.

The next stage of intrigue is already primed to begin.

Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, has been given a suspended death sentence for her part in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Kam believes Mr Bo could be up for some kind of disciplinary action in the next two weeks, ahead of the party congress.