China V-P skips meetings,absence sparks rumours

President-in-waiting Xi Jinping not seen for over week,cancelled meetings with Hillary Clinton

Written by Associated Press | Beijing | Published:September 11, 2012 2:05 am

Where is president-in-waiting Xi Jinping?

Is he nursing a bad back after pulling a muscle in a pick-up soccer game (or maybe in the swimming pool)? Has he been convalescing after narrowly escaping a revenge killing by supporters of ousted local Communist Party boss Bo Xilai? Was he in a car accident? Or is he just really busy getting ready to lead the world’s No. 2 economy ahead of an expected leadership transition next month?

Chinese micro-bloggers and overseas websites have come up with all kinds of speculation as to why the current vice-president has gone unseen for more than a week. During that span,Xi cancelled meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. On Monday,it was the Danish prime minister’s turn.

Xi’s whereabouts during this sudden absence from the spotlight may never be known. One thing,however,is certain: China may now be a linchpin of the global economy and a force in international diplomacy,but the lives of its leaders remain an utter mystery to its 1.3 billion people,its politics an unfathomable black hole.

So when the presumptive head of that opaque leadership disappears from public view,rumour mills naturally go into a frenzy.

“There is a longstanding practice of not reporting on illnesses or troubles within the elites,’’ said Scott Kennedy,director of Indiana University’s Research Centre for Chinese Politics and Business in Beijing. Adding grist to the mill,a scheduled photo session with visiting Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt,which the media were asked to cover,was taken off the programme.

The Foreign Ministry claimed the Xi-Thorning-Schmidt meeting was never intended to take place.

Most online speculation about the portly 59-year-old Xi has centered on a back problem,possibly incurred when he took a dip last week in the swimming pool inside the Zhongnanhai leadership compound. Another rumour has the back being hurt in a soccer game. It wasn’t clear what the sources of the information were.

More dramatically,the US-based website Boxun.com cited an unidentified source inside Zhongnanhai as saying Xi was injured in a staged traffic accident that was part of a revenge plot by Bo’s supporters in the security forces. Another member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee,He Guoqiang,was also injured in a similar incident,said the site,which acts as a clearinghouse for rumours and unsubstantiated reports. It has correctly predicted some recent political developments and been wildly off the mark on others.

This year,China has seen an unusual amount of political intrigue,with the spectacular downfall of Politburo member Bo exposing divisions within the leadership.

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