09/12/2012, 00.00
CHINA

Mystery still surrounds the fate of Xi Jinping who may be nursing a back injury

Sources near the Communist leadership are saying that the vice president is in hospital for a minor back problem caused by "swimming". On micro blogging websites, speculation abound about the "crown prince," term used to get around Chinese censorship. Government spokespersons refuse to answer media questions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The absence of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping from various public events continues to raise questions in China and abroad. Since his last public appearance on 1 September, he has cancelled a number of high-level meetings including one with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to some, he is nursing an ailment, possibly a back injury suffered while swimming. Meanwhile, the wall of silence by Chinese media and government officials continues.

At a regular press brief with foreign media, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not answer questions about Xi's conditions.

When asked whether Xi was alive, spokesman Hong answered, "I hope you can ask a serious question."

However, he did not elaborate on the sudden and unexpected absence of China's presumptive future president.

One source close to the Beijing leadership said, "Xi injured his back when he went for his daily swim." Another said the same. But both spoke on condition of anonymity.

Popular micro blogging site Sina Weibo, used by hundreds of millions of Chinese, blocked searches for Xi's name, as is common with top leaders, but users as usual found ways to skirt the restrictions, referring to Xi as "the crown prince". Hundreds of users posted messages about him, mostly speculation.

Secrecy and silence have the hallmark of the Communist regime since it was established. Chinese leaders live in the Zhongnanhai compound, a forbidding and inaccessible area of Beijing, which they almost never leave.

Each meeting, speech or appointment is vetted by censors, affected government departments and then the media, all of which are under party control.

Xi's most recent public appearance was at a ceremony at the Communist Party's Central Party School in Beijing on 1 September. Since then, he has cancelled four meetings with foreign officials without an explanation.

Some analysts believe his absence is connected to the upcoming 18th party congress that should mark the rise of the fifth generation of leaders.

Succession and power struggles within the central committee of the Politburo, the real centre of power in China, have already been shaken by the scandal involving Bo Xilai and his wife, as well as tensions between the party's many factions, so much so that the date of party congress has not yet been decided.

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