SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, RADIO AUSTRALIA (Australia), CNN, WALL STREET JOURNAL (USA), REUTERS
BEIJING - Xi Jinping, the 58-year-old Chinese Vice President, widely expected to be the next leader of the People's Republic of China, has not been seen in public since September 1.
Several meetings planned with foreign leaders have been canceled, reports Reuters in Beijing, including one with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and another with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong.
No explanation for these cancelations has been given, according to Radio Australia. Xi is expected to be appointed China’s new leader at the Communist party Congress next month, before assuming the presidency early next year in a once-in-a-decade power transition.
Xi remains nowhere to be seen, which has fueled rumors and gossip. Despite the Chinese censors' best efforts to ban discussion on the subject, theories have proliferated on China's ever active social networks, with wild plot lines ranging from a car crash to an assassination attempt, reports CNN.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has refused to answer any questions about Xi but sources close to the leadership said on Tuesday that he has hurt his back swimming. Another source close to Xi said: “He’s unwell, but it’s not a big problem.”
When asked in a press conference if Xi was dead, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei answered, "I hope you have serious questions to ask."
China's official silence on the absence of the Vice President is in line with past policy, but because of recent scandals involving high-level officials and their families, China-watchers are on the alert for anything out of the ordinary involving them. Just last week, for example, it was confirmed that web rumors about the Ferrari crash of the son of a top political adviser in March were in fact true: the son of President Hu Jintao’s chief political fixer, Ling Jihua was killed in a high-speed Ferrari accident reportedly involving two naked women, writes the Sydney Morning Herald.
As it 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, says the Wall Street Journal.
In my hotel room Chinese censors blocked BBC just as they began to cover the missing Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping.
— Scott Gilmore (@Scott_Gilmore) September 11, 2012
Posted link to WSJ story about Xi Jinping on Weibo. Blocked from public view within 10 minutes.
— Josh Chin (@joshchin) September 11, 2012