China's Xi Jinping appears in public after lengthy absence
BEIJING -- Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping appeared in public on Saturday after a nearly two-week absence that sparked intense speculation about his health and possible infighting in the top ranks of the Communist Party.
State-run media reported that Xi, who has been tapped to succeed Hu Jintao as president in the coming months, appeared at China Agricultural University for activities marking National Science Popularization Day. Two photos – one showing Xi walking, another of him inspecting ears of corn – were posted online by the official New China News Agency.
Xi’s absence from public view has not been discussed in official Chinese media, but the possibility of ailments ranging from a back strain to a heart condition have been put forth in myriad reports in foreign publications. No video of Xi’s Saturday appearance, which might shed light on any physical malady, was immediately forthcoming.
Xi’s last public appearance came Sept. 1. After the 59-year-old missed a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week, rumblings about his whereabouts began to build.
Waves of reports on Chinese exile news websites and in the Hong Kong press quickly ratcheted up the speculation: He had been hospitalized after a car accident, or even an assassination attempt. Journalists who asked about Xi’s whereabouts and condition at Foreign Ministry news conferences this week were rebuffed.
Adding to concern that political disputes, rather than an ailment, might be behind Xi’s recent low profile has been the fact that Communist Party officials have yet to announce a date for their 18th Party Congress at which Xi's elevation is scheduled to occur. The meeting is expected to begin in October or early November, and political observers say a decision on an opening date is overdue.
--Julie MakinenPhoto: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, front right, attends an activity to mark this year's National Science Popularization Day at China Agricultural University in Beijing, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in a photo released by New China News Agency. Credit: Ding Lin / Associated Press