Vice-President Xi Jinping fails to meet Danish prime minister; rumours fly
Fuelling the rumour mill, Xi Jinping fails to turn up for a meeting with the Danish prime minister and has not been seen in public for 10 days
The mainland rumour mill went into overdrive when Vice-President Xi Jinping, whose last public appearance was 10 days ago, was a no-show at a previously announced meeting with the Danish prime minister yesterday afternoon.
The Danish leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, was instead received by Vice-Premier Wang Qishan .
Xi has not been seen in public since September 1. Officials have been reluctant to discuss his health status, disclose his whereabouts or explain the reasons behind the cancellation of a string of meetings with foreign leaders in the past week.
In what appeared to be an attempt to dispel rumours about the man tipped to become China's next top leader, the Communist Party's Study Times newspaper published a speech delivered by Xi at the Central Party School on September 1 on its front page yesterday. He called on cadres to think critically about major national issues.
There was no other mention of Xi in the mainland media and searches for the term "back injury" - an ailment that Xi is reportedly suffering from - remained banned on microblogs.
A host of rumours swirled around, ranging from Xi being seriously ill to his being injured in a car crash amid a power struggle ahead of a key party congress.
"The whole saga shows that China still keeps the lives of its leaders a secret," said Qiao Mu , a professor of journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University. "It is a rigid pattern that has been used by officials to deal with rumours over the past decades, and it is not going to change.
"The leaders think that the public does not need to know about them, and all the confusion will be cleared up when they show up at meetings."
Rumours about Xi have circulated since the cancellation of his meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Wednesday. Beijing said it was a "normal change of schedule".
A day after the cancellation of those meetings, the Foreign Ministry and the government-backed All-China Journalists' Federation invited the overseas media to cover a meeting scheduled for yesterday between Xi and Thorning-Schmidt.
But the meeting never took place. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei yesterday refused to say whether such a meeting had been planned and later cancelled. When asked about the rumours of injuries, Hong said "we have told everybody everything", and refused to elaborate.
Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a Hong Kong-based China-watcher, said it was very unlikely that Xi had been purged amid a power struggle or was seriously ill, but he said Beijing should be more transparent about top politicians.
"Without a proper account of what has happened over the past weeks, the rumours will remain rampant even if Xi makes a public appearance later."