(TIANJIN, China) -- No one outside the Chinese government knows for sure where Vice President Xi Jingping is these days. The presumed leader in waiting has not been seen in public for over a week.
As the mystery over his whereabouts deepens, the government has yet to offer an official explanation or even acknowledge Xi’s absence.
This week, online searches for Xi have been blocked. While it’s not unusual for the Chinese government to remain mum on the private lives of its public figures, it is odd that such a high-ranking government official would simply disappear so close to China’s once-in-a-decade transition of power. The new government is expected to be announced next month.
Xi, who is 59, made his last public appearance at the Central Party School on Sept. 1 in Beijing. He looked to be in decent health, but a string of recently cancelled public appearances with visiting foreign dignitaries is fueling online speculation.
Last week, an appearance with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was cancelled at the last minute. It was likely Mrs. Clinton’s last trip to China in her current capacity, and the two have worked relatively closely together several times during her tenure. But the Foreign Ministry gave no explanation for Xi's absence nor did it explain his failure to meet with Sinapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong the same day.
On Monday, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was in Beijing, but did not meet with Xi. She later said in an interview that a meeting with the vice president had never been on her schedule, although a media advisory circulated on Sept. 5 reportedly listed a photo opportunity with the two leaders.
The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that an unnamed source told the Hong Kong-based newspaper that Xi had injured his back while swimming. A second source told the paper the same thing.
A third source described Xi as “unwell,” but that it was not serious. That did not stop the netizen community from swapping speculation ranging from a car accident engineered by a political enemy to a soccer injury.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei dismissed any suggestion that Xi is suffering from a serious ailment.
But Kenneth Lieberthal, of the Brookings Institution, told the Wall Street Journal, “Something is amiss -- otherwise, they would have found an opportunity for him to be seen. But whether he hurt his back or there is some other problem is something that at this point there is no way to know with confidence.”
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