Vice-president Xi reappears in public


CHINA’S VICE-PRESIDENT Xi Jinping reappeared at a Beijing university at the weekend after a two-week absence from public view that fuelled wild speculation about the whereabouts of the man set to take over the helm of the world’s second-largest economy.

State broadcaster CCTV showed Mr Xi, who visited Ireland last February, attending National Science Popularisation Day at the China Agricultural University in Beijing on Saturday.

He was shown smiling, shaking hands with officials, holding hands with children and generally doing what Chinese leaders do at such events.

His reappearance may help defuse some concerns about the leadership succession in China. The once-in-a-decade transition of power at the top of the Communist Party is expected to take place next month.

The health of leaders is a state secret, and the government refused to comment on his absence, prompting rumours that he had had a heart attack or stroke, or had even been murdered. The most commonly accepted rumour is that he put his back out, either swimming or playing football.

To underline his robust health, Mr Xi is to attend a meeting with southeast Asian nations later this week, the foreign ministry announced yesterday.

He will attend a trade fair for Association of Southeast Asian Nations that opens on Friday in the southern region of Guangxi.

The leadership succession has already been clouded by the scandal surrounding purged politburo member Bo Xilai, and the next stage in putting that scandal to rest takes place in the coming days with the trial of Mr Bo’s one-time lieutenant Wang Lijun.

Mr Wang, the former vice-mayor and police chief of Chongqing, will be tried publicly for defection, abuse of power, violating the law for personal favour and accepting bribes. The trial, at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan province, opens tomorrow.

The Bo Xilai scandal was largely sparked by Mr Wang’s flight to the US consulate in Chengdu and his attempt to seek asylum in exchange for information about Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, who was convicted in August of the homicide of British businessman Neil Heywood. She was given a suspended death sentence after a brief trial.

Mr Wang became infamous in China after he implemented a crackdown on gangs in Chongqing at Mr Bo’s behest. More than 1,500 people were arrested, including gangsters, prominent businessmen and 14 high-ranking officials.

The trial is expected to last one day, and he is likely to receive a suspended death penalty or life imprisonment if found guilty.