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China’s missing VP finally 'appears in public'

© AFP

Latest update : 2012-09-15

Chinese vice president and presumed future leader Xi Jinping (photo) is said to have made a public appearance on Saturday weeks after disappearing on the eve of a planned meeting with Hillary Clinton. Xi was said to be suffering from back problems.

China’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping appeared in public on Saturday for the first time in about two weeks, visiting a Beijing university in what appeared to be an effort to dispel rumours of serious illness and a troubled succession.

In a brief English-language report, the Xinhua news agency said Vice President Xi "arrived at China Agricultural University Saturday morning for activities marking this year’s National Science Popularisation Day”.

A single picture on the government’s website (www.gov.cn) showed Xi, with a slight smile and wearing a black informal jacket over a white shirt, walking around the university.

Reuters had reported that Xi was likely to make an appearance on Saturday.

Sources have told Reuters that Xi hurt his back while swimming earlier this month and that he had been obeying doctors’ orders to get bed rest and undergo physiotherapy.

A Reuters reporter at the university saw a man with sleek black hair wearing a white shirt—who from a distance looked like Xi—getting loud applause as he stepped out of the building housing an exhibition and raised his arms up and down twice in a gesture of vigour.

There was a light security presence around the university, but a building housing a science exhibition was closed off by police and plain clothes guards.

Hundreds of students applauded, some shouting “Vice President Xi” or even “President Xi”.

A roar went up when his car rushed by and Xi waved his hand out the window.

“It was him for sure,” said one student, who had taken a blurry shot of the car on his smart phone. “He must be better.” The student refused to give his name.

Who is China's heir apparent?

The news spread rapidly on China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo, with users referring to Xi as the “crown prince” to avoid the usual censorship associated with the names of top leaders.

“He looks well,” wrote one user.

“In the future he should take better care when he goes swimming,” added another.

Xi had been out of the public eye for almost two weeks and had skipped meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Chinese government officials repeatedly refused to say what had happened to him, fuelling speculation that has included Xi supposedly suffering a heart attack, a stroke, emergency cancer surgery and even an attempted assassination.

The health of the country’s leaders has long been considered a state secret in China.

The ruling Communist Party’s refusal to comment on his disappearance from public view and absence from scheduled events was in keeping with its traditional silence on the question of the health of top leaders, but it had worried or mystified most China watchers.

Xi had last appeared in public on Sept. 1. He pulled a back muscle while swimming shortly before Clinton arrived on an official visit on Sept. 4, the sources had said, forcing him to scrap a meeting with her the next day and also with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Beijing has yet to announce formally a date for the party’s five-yearly congress, at which Xi is tipped to replace Hu Jintao as party chief, although it is still expected to be held in mid or late October at the earliest.

In March next year, he is formally to take over the reins of the world’s second-largest economy.

The uncertainty surrounding Xi’s absence has had no impact so far on Chinese or foreign markets, which have been absorbed by Europe’s debt crisis and China’s own economic slowdown. But investors have been keeping a close eye on the mystery surrounding Xi, after months of political drama in China.

Senior leader Bo Xilai was suspended from the party’s 25-member Politburo in April and his wife convicted of the murder of a British businessman. Blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest in April and took refuge in the U.S. embassy before leaving for New York.

In another scandal this month, a senior ally of President Hu was demoted after sources said the ally’s son was killed in a crash involving a luxury sports car.

REUTERS

Date created : 2012-09-15

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