Xi Jinping's last appearance took place over a week ago. Since then, he seems to have gone "missing" and rumors abound for lack of a coherent explanation as to what has happened to the country's upcoming president.
For over a week, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping has missed visits with four foreign dignitaries. First, he cancelled a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week in Beijing. Then the Chinese heir apparent cancelled a meeting with the prime minister of Singapore and of Denmark - though some sources reported Helle Thorning-Schmidt had never been on the schedule - and a Russian official. He has not been seen in public since his speech made at the Communist Party School in Beijing on September 1.
No official explanation has been given for the cancellations - neither from the Chinese foreign ministry nor from Xi's own office. But the disappearance of Xi Jinping, who is expected to take the helm of the country and replace President Hu Jintao, just a few weeks before the Communist Party's upcoming 18th party congress and after a string of scandals involving high-ranking politicians has given rise to a number of stories ranging from health complications all the way to political conspiracy.
Xi Jinping cancelled his scheduled meeting with Hillary Clinton
Media around the world is now filled with rumors as to what might have happened to China's soon-to-be number-one. The speculation is certainly fuelled by the opacity of the Chinese Communist Party; at a regular press conference in Beijing on Wednesday (September 12) a foreign ministry spokesman dodged questions asked by the press, first saying "I have no information to provide to you" and later "I hope you will raise serious questions" when asked if Xi was still alive.
Internet searches for Xi's name as well as for words such as "vice president" have now been blocked in China. According to news agency AFP, users of Weibo - China's version of Twitter - have found ways to get around the restrictions by using synonyms such as "crown prince" and the word "she" - the English word is similar to the pronunciation of his name.
The New York Times quoted a source saying the 59-year-old Xi might have had a heart attack. Other sources have spokes of injuries brought on by an accident. Reuters news agency was told by an unnamed source that Xi had injured his back while swimming. For Chinese audiences, however, that has a double meaning: in Chinese, "back injury" sounds the same as "to be upset."
Other speculation has even reached conspiracy level, with rumors of political intrigue at the highest levels of the Communist Party. A well-connected political analyst who wished to remain unnamed told DW Xi Jinping had engaged in "rogue" talks with high-ranking military officials while Hu Jintao was away in July, thus possibly arousing the ire of the president.
Another source, Chen Ping, CEO of the Hong Kong TV station SUN TV, and close friend of Hu Deping, told DW Xi had also met with Hu Deping, a prominent advocate of reform, at the beginning of August during which time he gave positive signals about introducing economic reforms.
"If the change of power in Beijing goes smoothly and Xi Jinping becomes the next president, he will definitely introduce reform," Chen commented. "Because without reform, China's future, along with the future of Xi Jinping, is hopeless."
Chen Ping did not, however, wish to comment on any speculations over Xi's disappearance, but he eliminated any speculation of serious illness or accident.
Expect the unexpected
Jin Zhong, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong's Open Magazine, said Xi's out-of-line "disappearance" was actually in line with what should be expected, given the circumstances. He told DW that the "organized transfer of power" had become somewhat disorganized:
"Up to now, successors were always chosen internally and according to instruction by China's founder," he said. "Now the fifth generation is being groomed for leadership. There are hardly any traces left from the first generation of power. Unexpected occurrences are to be expected."
But the Communist Party can hardly afford any further "unexpected occurrences." The affair of the fallen top politician Bo Xilai at the beginning of the year is viewed as the largest political scandal China has seen in decades. It was followed last week by the reassignment of one of Hu Jintao's key allies after his son's reported involvement in a fatal car crash involving a Ferrari and two women. Both incidents have brought to light the power struggle and possibe evidence of corruption at the highest levels of power.