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China's Xi Jinping cited in public statement, but rumours persist

Publication Date : 14-09-2012


The incoming leader's statement, however, is unlikely to end speculation over his health


Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping has issued his first public statement since he disappeared from public view more than a week ago, but analysts say it is unlikely to end the speculation over his health.

The incoming leader of the Chinese Communist Party was cited by state media late on Wednesday night as expressing his condolences over the death of a veteran party member last Thursday.

But the report did not quote Xi, 59, directly. Instead, the semi-official China News Service merely said he and other top Chinese leaders offered their condolences to the family of Huang Rong, a retired senior official from southern Guangxi region.

The leaders included President Hu Jintao and Xi, who "expressed their grief and heartfelt sympathies through various means to the relatives", the agency said.

Experts believe the article was aimed at silencing rumours that have gathered pace since Xi, whose last public appearance was on September 1, cancelled meetings in Beijing with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week.

The government has so far not provided any explanation, but various sources indicate that Xi had suffered a back injury. The Foreign Ministry declined to comment again yesterday. The official silence has led to talk that Xi had a more serious ailment, possibly a minor heart attack or stroke.

The buzz online even suggested that he was assassinated as part of a coup, taken out along with discipline czar He Guoqiang.

He ended the rumours when he appeared on state TV on Wednesday evening.

But there will be no such reprieve for Xi, said observers, despite the condolence message.

"Until he appears in person, the rumours will persist. This message is unlikely to calm nerves," said analyst Zhang Ming from Renmin University.

But experts also advised against getting carried away by Xi's continued absence.

"I doubt his illness is so serious that it would unravel the 18th Party Congress," said observer Shan Wei from the East Asian Institute in Singapore, referring to the leadership change expected in the coming weeks.

"So far, the other top Chinese leaders are still on their routine schedules."

Hu, for instance, did not cut short his trip to Vladivostok in Russia for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum earlier this week. Likewise, the party's No. 2 leader, top legislator Wu Bangguo, left on Sunday for a four-nation visit.


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