Vice-president Xi Jinping resurfaces after absence


CHINA’S LEADER-in-waiting Xi Jinping has made his first public utterances since September 1st, state media reported yesterday, a sign that the Communist Party is keen to keep a lid on rampant speculation about his absence.

Vice-president Xi, who is tipped to be appointed Chinese leader at a party congress next month, has not been seen in public for nearly two weeks, during which time he has cancelled meetings with four foreign dignitaries including US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, sparking a slew of rumours about his health.

He expressed condolences on the death of old party comrade Huang Rong, who died on September 6th – a day after Mr Xi missed a planned meeting with Ms Clinton, the official Guangxi Daily newspaper reported. The story was also posted on the Communist Party’s website.

The news was published widely in China but made no mention of Mr Xi’s health. Theories about his health range from a heart attack to a stroke to a back injury sustained while playing football. One report said he had been the victim of an assassination attempt.

However, the lack of information has prompted fears that the succession from president Hu Jintao to Mr Xi might not run as smoothly as hoped.

The scandal surrounding purged politburo member Bo Xilai – China’s deepest political crisis in more than two decades – had already clouded the transition of power and the party still has not announced the date of the 18th Communist Party congress, at which the handover to a new generation of leaders will begin. Sources said last week the event would run from October 15th to 18th.

For the fourth day in a row, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei refused to comment on speculation about Mr Xi’s health, saying only that he had “noticed” the reports, that preparations for the congress were “well under way” and that “Chinese authorities will release relevant information in due course”.