Skip to main content

Chinese media mentions 'missing' VP Xi

By Steven Jiang and Hilary Whiteman, CNN
September 13, 2012 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
China's Xi Jinping (right) pictured on August 30 meeting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Beijing.
China's Xi Jinping (right) pictured on August 30 meeting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Beijing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese media mentions Xi Jinping in statement of condolence
  • Vice President Xi hasn't been seen in public since September 1
  • Chinese officials have failed to comment on why he's dropped from public view
  • Xi is expected to replace Hu Jintao in the leadership transition later this year

Hong Kong (CNN) -- For the first time in almost two weeks, the name of presumptive Chinese leader Xi Jinping has appeared in state media, but it wasn't to dampen speculation about his "disappearance" weeks before a major Communist Party congress.

Instead, the 59-year-old vice president's name appeared on a message of condolence following the death on September 6 of a former official in Guangxi Province.

"After the passing of Comrade Huang Rong, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, Li Yuanchao, Zhu Rongji and Li Zhaozhuo expressed their condolences and conveyed their deep sympathies to his family," it said.

Xi's name appeared second on the list after current President Hu, and before other leaders including Li Yuanchao, head of the powerful Organization department who, like Xi, is tipped for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee, the nine-member team who leads China.

Jockeying for position ahead of China's leadership jamboree

The message did not include any direct quotes from Xi, and its existence doesn't provide any explanation as to why Xi has dropped from public view.

Mystery surrounds Chinese politician
Who is China's leader-in-waiting?
Chinese VP returns to Iowa

The vice president has not been seen in public since September 1 when he was reported to have given a speech to the Central Party School in Beijing. Images published by major news websites after the date showed Xi looking well and smartly dressed in a dark suit and purple tie.

However, since then, the cancellation of a number of meetings with high-profile foreign dignitaries has created a storm of speculation as rumor and hearsay fill the void of official information.

Who are the next generation of Chinese leaders?

For a number of days, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, has declined to answer queries on Xi at the Ministry's daily press briefings.

When Xi's meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was abruptly canceled on September 5, American officials said their Chinese counterparts had blamed a "scheduling conflict."

No official reasons were given following the cancellation of other appointments, including a meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The lack of comment has fueled unsubstantiated rumors, including wild plot lines ranging from a car crash, to an assassination attempt. Others say Xi has been sidelined by a suspected heart attack or stroke, neither of which have been denied or confirmed.

It is not unknown for Chinese leaders to suffer serious illnesses in secret. In April 1993, Li Peng, the then premier, disappeared for six weeks after a heart attack. The foreign ministry said he had "a cold" and confirmation that he had been treated in hospital did not come until this July.

"In most countries including in Asia, people are entitled to know the health of their leaders, but in China this is still regarded as state secrets," Willy Lam, a longtime China watcher who teaches politics and history at universities in Hong Kong and Japan, told CNN Monday.

During Xi's absence, other Chinese leaders have made a number of high-profile appearances outside China. Hu has addressed APEC delegates in Vladivostok, Russia and China's top legislator, Wu Bangguo, met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

China expert Linda Jakobsen, of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia, says that the mere presence of a high-ranking official on foreign trips indicates that China's leadership is not dealing with a crisis.

"If Xi was gravely ill or had encountered political problems, which would call into question his anointment as head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the upcoming Party Congress, senior leaders would not be traveling and the leadership would be convening in Beijing. That is standard CCP practice at a time of crisis," she wrote in a recent column.

Xi Jinping is already projected to be a weak leader because he doesn't have a power base of his own.
China analyst, Willy Lam

In a matter of weeks, more than 2,000 delegates are expected to meet in Beijing for the Communist Party's 18th National Congress.

During their event, China's political elite are expected to announce the results of months of political maneuvering, and the names of the five to seven new entrants to Politburo Standing Committee.

"The Chinese leadership is worried about social stability," said David Zweig, a seasoned China observer and a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "But nothing creates greater social instability than this kind of lack of information about the leadership."

Already, China's leadership transition has been marred by extraordinary twists and turns.

In April, Bo Xilai, once considered to be among party royalty and a fast-rising star within the party, was stripped of his leadership positions for an unspecified "breach of party discipline." He has not been seen publicly since.

Disgraced Party chief looms large over China's leadership

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted last month of murdering Neil Heywood, a British businessman, and received a suspended death sentence.

And Bo's former police chief, Wang Lijun, whose attempt in February to seek asylum in a U.S. Consulate triggered the scandal, was charged last week with defection and bribe-taking. Wang is awaiting trial.

Although most analysts agree the all-important 18th Communist Party Congress will be held in the middle of next month, though authorities have yet to confirm the date.

"More questions are now being asked about the transparency of Chinese politics since everything is in a black box," said Lam.

Observers say the official silence could also signal last-minute negotiations among senior political figures before they present a facade of unity to the public. The current generation of leaders has been particularly sensitive to maintaining a united front since 1989, when the party hierarchy split over how to deal with pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

"Xi Jinping is already projected to be a weak leader because he doesn't have a power base of his own," said Lam, who predicted Hu will remain the head of the Chinese military for two to three years after relinquishing his party and state titles to Xi.

"Hu could be the ultimate winner here -- he will be the power behind the throne."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0707 GMT (1507 HKT)
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0109 GMT (0909 HKT)
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT