|09-11-2012, 06:13 PM|
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China's VP set to take the reigns -- but has completely vanished.
China is waaaaaaaaaaaay more of a mess than they let on.
We know they've been diddling around with their currency. But this is another level of weird.
Chinese Mystery: Where Is Xi Jinping?
By JEREMY PAGE, FLEMMING EMIL HANSEN and JOSH CHIN
Updated September 11, 2012, 9:38 a.m. ET
BEIJING—Speculation gathered steam about the health and whereabouts of the man expected to take the reins as China's top leader in a matter of weeks as Chinese authorities keep their usual tight grip on information about the nation's leaders.
Monday, Chinese authorities failed to explain why Vice President Xi Jinping, who hasn't been seen in public since Sept. 1, had missed another meeting with a visiting foreign dignitary, Denmark's prime minister.
Rumors that all wasn't well with 59-year-old Mr. Xi were sparked last week when he skipped a meeting with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the last minute. The government declined to provide a clear explanation for that highly unusual move.
The mystery adds to an already tense atmosphere ahead of once-a-decade leadership transition expected to kick into gear in a few weeks. President Hu Jintao is due to hand over to Mr. Xi his most powerful post, as Communist Party chief.
Despite government efforts to crack down on online commentary, Mr. Xi was the subject of speculation on fast-moving microblogs, which work like Twitter.
"Jinping, what's the deal?" read one post on Sina Corp.'s popular Weibo microblogging service, which used Mr. Xi's given name and had been left untouched by censors Monday evening. "The entire country from top to bottom is paying attention."
As is often the case with China's top leaders, Chinese and English language searches for Mr. Xi's full name and surname were blocked on Weibo on Monday. But searches for "Jinping" weren't blocked in Chinese, though periodic searches using those characters produced fewer results each time, suggesting censors were busy deleting posts about Mr. Xi.
Even as Chinese society has opened to the outside world, a shroud of secrecy continues to surround virtually every aspect of Chinese leaders' personal lives, and their health is hardly ever discussed by authorities. Leaders rarely open themselves to direct questions; for example, Premier Wen Jiabao usually takes questions from media only at one tightly scripted news conference a year.
Chinese leaders sometimes don't appear in public for extended periods, with no explanation, but it is very unusual for one to cancel meetings with foreign officials at such short notice, according to party insiders, diplomats and political analysts.
A U.S. official said last week that Mr. Xi canceled his meeting with Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday because of a back problem. Since then, Chinese social-media sites have been buzzing with speculation that Mr. Xi strained his back either swimming or playing soccer. China's government hasn't commented on his health.
Mr. Xi's visit to the U.S. last February carried all the trappings of an extended introduction of the coming Chinese leader. He was presented in appearances across the country as warm, good-humored politician, in marked contrast to the country's tradition of stern, sober rulers.
That display makes his absence now all the more mysterious as well as interesting—although U.S. officials guard carefully against any public remark that might offend the Chinese. After all, there could be many explanations for Mr. Xi's absence.
"The bottom line is that there is no reliable information to go on," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a White House official during the Bill Clinton administration and now with the Brookings Institution, a think tank. "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."
Plans for a smooth leadership transition have already been thrown into disarray by the scandal surrounding Bo Xilai, the ousted party leader who was once a candidate for the top leadership but whose wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted last month of murdering a British businessman.
Rumors about leaders have sometimes prompted the party into quick action, such as last year when Hong Kong media reported that Jiang Zemin, the former president, had died after being rushed to a military hospital with heart problems. The state-run Xinhua news agency—the main government media organ—dismissed the reports about Mr. Jiang at the time as "pure rumor." Mr. Jiang later appeared on state media.
When Chinese social-media sites began circulating reports this year that Zhou Yongkang, the domestic security chief, was in political trouble for supporting Mr. Bo, state media ran a series of lengthy reports showing Mr. Zhou attending public events.
So far, however, state media have made little attempt to suppress the rumors surrounding Mr. Xi, although one party newspaper, Study Times, did put on its front page Monday a transcript of the speech he made at his Sept. 1 appearance. China's Foreign Ministry said last week that the cancellation of Mr. Xi's meeting with Mrs. Clinton was a normal "adjustment of itinerary," and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said there shouldn't be "unnecessary speculation" about the move. But neither gave a reason for the cancellation.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Mr. Xi had also canceled an appearance with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr. Xi has probably an additional couple of days to appear publicly before public pressure forces the Chinese government to at least issue a statement explaining Mr. Xi's status, said Christopher Johnson, a former top China analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency who is now a senior adviser on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"My sense of it is if he were physically able to show up and be seen publicly, he'd do it, unless it's political," Mr. Johnson said, adding that the Chinese government's reversal of its message that Mr. Xi would be available for a meeting and photo opportunity on Monday suggests Mr. Xi is having health problems.
"As the incoming leader for the next decade, Xi should be the picture of health," Mr. Johnson said. "If he's not, that's definitely a situation for the party leadership."
Mr. Xi had been scheduled to meet Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt during her visit to China, according to a person close to the planning. However, Chinese and Danish officials both said Monday that Ms. Thorning-Schmidt wouldn't be meeting Mr. Xi during her three-day trip.
She was received by Vice Premier Wang Qishan at a welcoming ceremony in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing on Monday and was due to meet Premier Wen Jiabao in the nearby city of Tianjin on Tuesday, according to the Danish Embassy.
The person close to the planning of her trip said Mr. Xi's cancellation wasn't a reflection of Denmark's relationship with China. "He also canceled Clinton," the person said. "It's not about Denmark."
Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, declined to say whether a meeting with Mr. Xi had been scheduled and then canceled, telling a regular news briefing Monday: "As agreed between the Chinese and Danish sides, leaders of China's State Council will meet the Danish prime minister."
Asked about Hong Kong media reports that Mr. Xi had been injured in a car crash, he declined further comment.
While the speculation surrounding Mr. Xi is primarily focused on his health, part of what unnerves the Chinese public is that similar radio silence has at times in China's past been due to a power struggle behind the scenes.
Rumors about Mr. Bo intensified after he failed to appear alongside other Politburo members at a session of the national parliament meeting on March 8. He told a news conference the next day that he had been ill, but he was dismissed as party chief of Chongqing within a week.