Chinese Vice President Fails to Greet Visiting Dignitary for 3rd Time in Week

Posted September 11th, 2012 at 5:30 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

China's foreign ministry says it has no information on the status of Vice President Xi Jinping, whose failure to appear for a series of meetings with foreign visitors has fueled speculation about his health.

The comments from foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei Tuesday come more than 10 days since the last known public appearance of Xi, who is expected to become China's next president as part of a once-a-decade leadership transition, later this year.

Xi did not attend a previously scheduled meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Beijing Monday. Last week, his meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong were canceled..

Such schedule changes are unusual for Chinese leaders, whose meetings with high-ranking foreign officials typically are planned well in advance.

That, combined with the official silence on the matter, has sparked rumors about the 59-year-old Xi, says Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China watcher from the Hong Kong Baptist University.

“The Chinese authorities haven't told us what may have happened to him, whether he is sick or incapacitated in one way or another. There have been no official reports about his health, giving way to a lot of conflicting speculation.”

Most of the Internet speculation about Xi's health – all unsubstantiated – focus on his back, with some people suggesting he hurt himself playing soccer or swimming. Other rumors are more sinister, suggesting he was hurt in a car crash that may not have been an accident.

But China analyst Mike Chinoy points out that Beijing has a long record of secrecy regarding the health and internal rivalries of its leaders. He says this silence does not mean the worst should be assumed.

“The style of the Chinese leadership is that they don't like to wash their dirty laundry in public. They only tell people what is going on in a very limited form and only when they're good and ready. So the fact they haven't resolved it yet doesn't mean they're not going to resolve it.”

Scott Kennedy, director of the Beijing-based Indiana University Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business, says he believes the scant evidence available suggests Xi has suffered only a minor health setback.

“My own view is that the greatest likelihood is of the more boring variety. Between the far outer limits of him just not wanting to be in public because he's busy preparing for the 18th Communist Party Congress, and the other extreme that something has befallen him because of political intrigue, I think we're leaning toward the former and it's most likely some personal health issue.

The story has taken on more importance because of it comes just weeks before China's Communist Party is expected to convene in Beijing to pick the country's senior leaders for the next decade.

Kennedy says there is nothing yet to suggest that the leadership transition, which is usually held in late September or October, will be affected by Xi's absence.

“If it's something related to his health that makes it difficult to assume his duties right away or affects his public image, then I suppose it could be put back (delayed) by some time. But I think as long as he's able to assume his duties and this isn't the result of some political infighting, then it's going to be a very minor blip on the screen seen from history's perspective. But again, we can't be sure, because he hasn't been seen in a while.”

But nonetheless, the increased attention and speculation likely is not appreciated by a Beijing leadership that has already had to deal with its worst political scandal in years, involving the recent removal of senior party official Bo Xilai and the murder conviction of his wife.