The Communist Party's discipline chief, He Guoqiang, appeared in public for the first time in days yesterday amid rumours linking his absence to the mystery surrounding leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping.
He, who is one of nine members of the Politburo's supreme Standing Committee, was shown on CCTV's 7pm broadcast visiting a periodical affiliated with the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a Beijing-based party newspaper.
It was the first time He had appeared in public since August 31, when he attended an event touting his achievements in the country's fight against graft. His time out of the limelight had become the subject of intense speculation because it coincided with a similar absence by Xi.
The central government has provided no explanation as to why Xi, who is currently vice-president, missed a series of public meetings last week, including one with the Central Military Commission. Xi has not been seen in public since September 1.
Xi's absence comes just ahead of the 18th national party congress, in which Xi is expected to take control of the ruling party in a once-in-a-decade reshuffle. The internet has been abuzz since late last week with speculation about his health.
One particularly sensational rumour claimed that both Xi and He were hurt in separate car crashes caused by party rivals.
But analysts of Chinese politics say Xi is probably suffering from a relatively minor health issue, since anything more serious would have prevented President Hu Jintao from taking part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vladivostok last week.
The government has repeatedly refused to give any explanation for the absence. "I have no information to offer you on this," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday.
Xi's disappearance from public view has attracted global attention, but China's tightly controlled state-run media has ignored the issue, focusing instead on a row over Japan's purchase of the disputed Diaoyu Islands - known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands.