Where in the World is Xi Jinping?

by Patrick Brennan

The man who is to become the leader of the Chinese government in just over a month’s time has now been missing for ten days. The Daily Telegraph reports:

Xi Jinping, who is expected to be unveiled as China’s next president in October, has not been seen in public for ten days leading to a flurry of online speculation about his health.

The Communist party has so far refused to explain Mr Xi’s disappearance and a foreign ministry spokesperson again declined to comment on Tuesday.

“I hope you can ask more serious questions,” Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing after being asked if Mr Xi was even still alive.

Initial rumours suggested Mr Xi had hurt his back swimming or playing football. However, the New York Times cited a well-connected political analyst yesterday who claimed Mr Xi might have suffered a “mild heart attack”. . . .

Questions over the whereabouts of Mr Xi, 59, began last Wednesday after authorities cancelled the vice-president’s meeting with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, citing “unexpected scheduling reasons”. . . .

Analysts have dismissed the most sensational online claims, posted on a US website and subsequently retracted, that Mr Xi had suffered an assassination attempt as part of an internal struggle for power struggle.

“If that did happen or if the party leadership believed that such an attempt was made I think you would have Beijing crawling with police and security forces,” said Steve Tsang, a China expert from the University of Nottingham.

China’s 18th Communist Party Congress convenes at the end of October. At this once-per-decade event, seven of the nine members of the top-level Politburo Standing Committee will be stepping down, and Xi Jinping is expected to be appointed to the committee’s top spot, on his way to being elected president in 2013.

This crucial transition period for China has been shaken up by the removal of prominent populist politician and Chongqing mayor Bo Xilai from from his political positions in April, after a scandal involving his police chief’s fleeing to a U.S. consulate, accusations of Bo’s corruption, and his wife’s involvement in the murder of a British businessman. Bo was a member of the larger Central Politburo (25 members, from which the Standing Committee members are drawn), and was expected to be elevated to the Standing Committee this fall — his total expulsion from Chinese politics has been seen as a sign of significant disunity in the top echelons of Chinese government. Xi’s mysterious behavior, even if there isn’t a nefarious explanation, at the very least looks to many like confirmation of the party’s disorganized state.