Xi Said to Be “Fine”; Whereabouts Still Unknown

After more than a week of speculation over his whereabouts after Xi Jinping disappeared from the public eye and cancelled several meetings with foreign dignitaries, a source told The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore that China’s president-in-waiting has suffered a heart attack [see updates below]:

“Although people have said he suffered a back injury, he actually had a heart attack, a myocardial infarction,” said Li Weidong, a political commentator in Beijing and the former editor of China Reform.

The magazine is influential among Chinese policymakers and under the aegis of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Other unnamed sources have also suggested that Mr Xi, 59, suffered a heart attack, while Willy Lam, the former editor of the South China Morning Post, believes China’s president-in-waiting had a stroke and is currently unable to show his face in public.

Without an official statement from the Chinese government, however, the rumor mill continues to swirl. While The Financial Times’ Kathrin Hille and Jamil Anderlini remind readers that it took the Chinese Communist Party two months to inform the public when one-time heir apparent Lin Biao died in a 1971 plane crash, Bloomberg news reports that the government’s silence contrasts with their approach to other recent incidents involving speculation about a top leader:

The official Xinhua News Agency took less than a day in July 2011 to deny former President Jiang Zemin had died. Earlier this year, Xinhua published accounts of China’s top security official within days of a Financial Times report that he was under investigation. By comparison, state media haven’t reported on Xi for a week, or mentioned that he canceled meetings with foreign officials on Sept. 5.

The vacuum of news on Xi, weeks before the 59-year-old is forecast to be anointed China’s next president, may be a sign of the severity of his condition, or divisions over how to present his absence. The public remains uninformed even of the date for the congress where the new generation of leaders, including Xi, is set to be announced.

“In a relatively closed system, Chinese society is driven by rumors and conspiracy theories and the government does recognize the need to release some explanation,” said John Lee, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney and author of the book “Will China Fail?” “The fact that you have not had a definitive explanation from state media suggests that there is internal disagreement as to how to release the truth, whatever that may be.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page reports that Xi’s absence has complicated plans for the 18th Party Congress and China’s upcoming leadership transition:

The announcement of when the meeting to start the transition will take place is already considered late, after a highly unusual year in Chinese politics, and Mr. Xi’s disappearance, apparently because of a health problem, has created another complication that could cause further delays, those people said.

If he reappears within the next week or so, it is unlikely to affect the personnel changes at the 18th Communist Party Congress, when Mr. Xi is expected to take over President Hu Jintao’s most powerful post as general secretary of the party, they said.

But if Mr. Xi is out of the public eye for much longer than that, his absence could influence the succession plans, possibly including negotiations over whether Mr. Hu should also step down this year as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which commands the armed forces, those people say.

CDT’s latest list of Sensitive Words—blocked search terms on Sina Weibo—includes several entries on Xi and his disappearance.

Updated at 20:28 PST: Reuters reports that indirect word from Xi has appeared in state media:

[…] Beijing has still not issued a statement directly responding to rumours over the 59-year-old’s health, which have included a bad back and heart trouble.

[…] The China News service, in a report posted on its Web site late on Wednesday, said Xi and other top Chinese leaders had offered their sympathies to the family of Huang Rong, a retired official from southern Guangxi region who died on Sept. 6 – the day after Xi missed his meeting with Clinton.

Senior officials including President Hu Jintao and Xi, “expressed their grief and heartfelt sympathies through various means to the relative of Huang Rong”, the China News service said. It did not directly quote Xi.

Rumours surrounding Xi’s disappearance prompted former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd to suggest this week that China watchers “take a long, strong, hot cup of tea and just calm down a bit”.

Having also gone missing from public view since the end of last month, Party discipline chief He Guoqiang re-emerged on Wednesday and seamlessly picked up where he had left off. From Xinhua:

Senior Chinese leader He Guoqiang on Wednesday visited China’s major anti-graft newspapers and magazines, encouraging editorial staff to make greater contributions to anti-corruption public education.

He, head of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, visited China Supervision Magazine, China Discipline Inspection and Supervision Newspaper, China Fangzheng Publishing House, and the electronic education center of the CPC’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

He, also a Standing Committee member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, called for these publications to contribute to the country’s anti-corruption drive, describing anti-graft public education as fundamental work in the CPC’s endeavor to build a clean government.

And from the South China Morning Post:

He, who is one of nine members of the Politburo’s supreme Standing Committee, was shown on CCTV’s 7pm broadcast visiting a periodical affiliated with the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a Beijing-based party newspaper.

It was the first time He had appeared in public since August 31, when he attended an event touting his achievements in the country’s fight against graft. His time out of the limelight had become the subject of intense speculation because it coincided with a similar absence by Xi.

Updated at 21:25 PST: Li Weidong has issued a statement on Tencent Weibo (via NPR’s Louisa Lim) clarifying that he cannot confirm rumours of a heart attack. Translated by CDT:

Personal statement: Yesterday I spoke on the phone to the UK’s Daily Telegraph, who inquired about the condition of a certain patient. My original words were: “I don’t know the specifics, but there are rumours online, both in China and abroad, that he developed a heart problem. I can’t confirm that. But even so, the situation isn’t too serious, and he may quickly recover (because with our current standard of medical treatment, it isn’t a big deal). Moreover, according to my understanding, his condition is very good, and will not affect the schedule going forward [with China’s 18th Party Congress and leadership transition].” Everything else is just rumor. I state: I did not confirm the patient’s condition.

个人声明:昨天接英国每日电讯电话,询问某病情,我原话说:具体我不知,但内外网上都有传闻说可能心脏出了问题,我不能肯定。但即使如此,情况也不严重,会很快康复(以我们现在的医疗水平这不是大事),而且据我了解,实际状况也确实很好,不会影响后面日程。其他说法都是谣言。声明:我没有确认病情

Updated at 8:55 am PST: The Age has an interview with a close family friend of Xi’s who says he is “fine”:

A close family friend of Mr Xi, however, told Fairfax this morning that the current Vice-President, deputy Communist Party chief and deputy chairman of the top military commission has no lasting problems.

“He’s fine, he’s fine, I can only say he is fine,” said the source, while hinting even that comment had breached the party’s regime of blanket secrecy.

The source, who is one of Mr Xi’s most strident supporters in elite circles, appeared relaxed and confident. The source had grown up around the Xi siblings because their fathers had fought and worked together since the 1920s.

The source did not, however, provide any explanation for the official silence.