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Mystery of China’s missing heir to power

Xi Jinping

Publication Date : 13-09-2012

 

Blogs and social networking sites are full of speculations about the whereabouts of Xi Jingping

 

A new Chinese leadership is to be announced next month, but the man expected to take the main reins of power is nowhere to be seen.

Vice President Xi Jinping, widely tipped to replace Hu Jintao as the country’s next president, hasn’t been seen in public since September 1, notable in a country where the media reports with gusto on official activities deemed appropriate for air by the Communist Party.

The mystery of Xi’s whereabouts began when he cancelled planned meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, among other dignitaries, on September 5. Since then, the rumour mill has been working overtime ― fuelled, no doubt, by the Chinese government’s refusal to provide an explanation for Xi’s absence. The reasons speculated have ranged from a back injury ― among the more credible of offerings given the citing of Chinese government sources ― to an assassination attempt.

The debacle has also exposed the limits of state secrecy. Even in authoritarian China, blogs and social networking services have weakened the government’s monopoly on information. The authorities’ stonewalling of inquires about Xi has appeared jarringly out of step with Chinese citizens’ growing economic clout and cosmopolitanism. When Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, blocked the use of Xi’s name, users quickly began referring to the “crown prince” to continue their musings.

As China’s standing has risen in recent years, much has been made of its failure to democratise, with an economically-sated middle class, cultural leanings toward hierarchy and a desire for political stability among the many explanations proffered.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made headlines in 2007 when he remarked that China would be socialist for another 100 years. As Korea’s experience has shown, however, a population’s patience with political repression is rarely limitless. China’s incoming leadership, whoever it is to be made up of, would be wise to remember that.

 

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