Chinese micro-bloggers and overseas websites are agog with all kinds of speculation as to why Xi Jinping, the current vice-president and president-in-waiting, 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.
A scheduled photo session with visiting Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, which the media were asked to cover, was taken off the programme.
Thorning-Schmidt is also due to meet with Vice-Premier Wang Qishan on Monday and Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday. The foreign ministry claimed the Xi-Thorning-Schmidt meeting was never intended to take place.
“As I said last week, China’s state councillors will meet the Danish prime minister,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. When asked about the rumours of an injury, Hong said “we have told everybody everything,” and refused to elaborate.
Rumours about Xi were churned further by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cryptic remark over the weekend that the start of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum leaders’ meeting in Vladivostok had been delayed because Hu needed to attend to an important but unspecified domestic issue.
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.
“There is a longstanding practice of not reporting on illnesses or troubles within the elites,” said Scott Kennedy, director of Indiana University’s Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business in Beijing. “The sense is that giving out such information would only fuel further speculation.”
Wang Xiangwei, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and a longtime state media insider, wrote on Monday in his newspaper that Chinese leaders’ meetings are planned well in advance and cancelations are extremely rare.
“Baring 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 wrote.
Though absent in person, Xi did pop up Monday on the front page of the party academy’s official newspaper Study Times alongside a transcript of the speech he delivered nine days earlier.
In the text, he enjoins newly enrolled cadres to use their time on the leafy campus in the northern Beijing suburbs to think critically about major national issues and not spend it “expanding personal contacts and inviting guests to dinner.”