The strange disappearance from public view of China’s presumptive new leader is turning a year that was supposed to showcase the Communist Party’s stability into something of an annus horribilis.
Over the past week, the new leader, Xi Jinping, has missed at least three scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last Wednesday and the prime minister of Denmark on Monday. So far officials have declined to provide an explanation for his absences.
That set off furious speculation on the Internet that the 59-year-old Mr. Xi’s health, either physical or political, has taken a turn for the worse. Some diplomats say they have heard that Mr. Xi suffered a pulled muscle while swimming or playing soccer. One media report, since retracted, had it that Mr. Xi was hurt in an auto accident when a military official tried to injure or kill him in a revenge plot. A well-connected political analyst in Beijing said in an interview that Mr. Xi might have had a mild heart attack.
Whatever the actual reason, Mr. Xi’s unexplained absences are conspicuous on the eve of what is supposed to be China’s once-in-a-decade transfer of power. It also adds to a litany of woes that have disrupted the Communist Party’s hopes that a seamless political transition would send a signal of stability to the Chinese people and the world at large.
Two unusual political scandals have sidelined people considered contenders for seats on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, most recently including a close ally of President Hu Jintao’s. China’s economy has fallen into an unexpectedly deep slump, confounding government forecasts for a measured slowdown. Party leaders have also yet to announce a date for the 18th Party Congress, the event to mark the retirement of this generation of leaders and the accession of the next, though it is supposed to take place as soon as next month.
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