The strange disappearance from public view of China's heir apparent Vice President Xi Jinping has puzzled observers.
As Xi Jinping, the man tipped to lead China for the next decade, mysteriously stayed out of the public eye for a 10th straight day Tuesday, the official silence about his whereabouts only intensified speculation about his future.
Analysts can suggest no reason why Mr. Xi should not be made head of the ruling Communist Party at a long-awaited set-piece meeting expected next month. But his unexplained absence from public life at such a sensitive moment, in the run-up to a once-in-a-decade leadership change, is puzzling outsiders.
“There might be a simple and reasonable explanation, but they won’t explain it,” says Sidney Rittenberg, a former communist, familiar with Chinese leaders for more than half a century. The Chinese government “is still awkward in its relations with the outside world,” he adds.
Xi, who was anointed five years ago as heir apparent to Hu Jintao, head of the Communist Party and president of the nation, surprised observers when he canceled a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sept. 5 at the last moment.
A US official said at the time that Chinese counterparts had explained privately that Xi was suffering from back trouble. Xi also skipped a meeting with the Singaporean prime minister that day, and yesterday begged off a previously announced appointment with the Danish premier.
If Xi is indeed avoiding public appearances because of back pain, that would explain the authorities’ refusal to make any comment, says Zhang Jian, a professor of politics at Peking University.