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Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping. Photo: AP
Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping. Photo: AP

China’s presumptive new leader mysteriously absent

Xi Jinping has been missing from public view in recent days as the country prepares for a crucial leadership change

Beijing: Speculation intensified on Monday over the whereabouts of China’s presumptive new president, Xi Jinping, who has been missing from public view in recent days as the country prepares for a crucial leadership change.

Last week, Xi cancelled meetings with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong. On Monday, he did not show up at a meeting with the Danish prime minister.

While Chinese leaders often do not appear in public for long periods, cancelling meetings with foreign dignitaries at the last minute is unusual. Adding to the uncertainty is the absence of an official statement of any kind, with observers talking about a bad back or even a mild heart attack.

“There’s every sort of crazy rumour about Xi’s health," said a senior Chinese journalist, who asked not to be identified because of sensitivity surrounding the case. “But no one is saying anything."

The speculation adds another wrinkle to the less-than-smooth transition from the departing president, Hu Jintao, to Xi, 59. Earlier this year, a senior Communist leader, Bo Xilai, vanished from view after his wife was charged with murdering a British businessman. Then, earlier this month, another senior official was unexpectedly demoted after a scandal surrounding his son.

And no date has been set for the 18th party congress, when the transition is supposed to take place. The consensus is that it will happen next month, but no announcement has been made. The last congress was also held in October, but its dates had been made public in August.

“These are not signs that everything is going well," said Bo Zhiyue, a political-science professor at the National University of Singapore.

China’s political system has long been a black box, but its secrecy has begun to seem more anachronistic as the country has become one of the world's biggest economic, political and military powers.

“Authorities are worried about anything that may tarnish the transition," said Joseph Y.S. Cheng, a political-science professor at Hong Kong’s City University. “But this concern is working against their interests; they should come out with a clear statement."

On Monday, the situation grew odder. China’s ministry of foreign affairs denied that the meeting between Xi and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt had been scheduled. Last week, however, the ministry had invited the foreign press for a photo opportunity with the two leaders.

“We have told everybody everything," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, according to AP.


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