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Absence of Xi Jinping could disrupt China's handover

Publication Date : 13-09-2012


The continued non-appearance of Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping could push back the leadership handover and even strengthen the bargaining positions of his rivals, said analysts.

And if the ailment he is believed to be suffering from is severe, it could even unravel the carefully staged once-in-a-decade transition.

"At the very least, this looks like it would affect the party congress in terms of dates. It could be delayed to November or even later," said observer Bo Zhiyue from the East Asian Institute in Singapore.

While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not announced the date of the major conference, several indications suggested that mid-October is most likely.

Based on precedent, the party usually allows a two-month gap between delegates' confirmation and the congress' opening. This year, delegates were finalised and announced on August 13.

The party also gave at least 11/2 months' notice of the congresses in the past.

Since no announcement has been made yet, mid-October looks increasingly unlikely.

Still, as analyst Zhang Jian from Peking University said: "Even if it is in November, it is not extraordinary. It has been done before."

The 16th Party Congress in 2002 opened on November 8.

But the continued absence of Xi could see this major event delayed until winter, since he is the expected star of the show.

The 59-year-old is slated to succeed President Hu Jintao as the leader of the CCP during this generational shift in power.

Since Xi's no-shows last Wednesday in scheduled meetings with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speculation has been mounting that the heir apparent could be incapacitated.

His last public appearance was on September 1, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry declined to answer queries for an update yesterday.

Xi is believed to have injured his back, but some reports said that he had a mild stroke or a minor heart attack.

If the latter afflictions are true, his political rivals are expected to push for greater control of the transition.

For one thing, Hu, whose preferred successor was not Xi, could press to extend his tenure as chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission - the body that controls the People's Liberation Army.

While Hu is expected to step down as leader of the CCP during the congress, it is as yet unclear if he will relinquish military command at the same time.

Jiang Zemin, predecessor of Hu, hung on to the commission post for an extra two years after leaving his party and state positions in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

If Hu leaves the Central Military Commission, Xi, as the vice-chairman and next highest-ranked civilian in charge, is likely to take over.

"Hu could well say that since Xi is not feeling well, let's have a more gradual handover of the various posts," said Dr Bo.

"Xi can take over as general secretary of the party first, but for the military, it can wait a few more years."

But experts also cautioned against over-interpretations of Xi's 12-day disappearance.

Former Chinese leaders have made similar hiatuses because of health concerns - then premier Li Peng went off for seven weeks in 1993, and then vice-premier Huang Ju for five weeks in 2006 - with no clear negative impact on their political positions.


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