TAIPEI, Taiwan — China’s so-called invisible man and presumed leader in waiting Xi Jinping shrugged off Western media speculation about a possible stroke, assassination attempt, a bitter internal power struggle and a host of other B-movie conspiracy theories when he made his first public appearance in two weeks today.
State-run Xinhua news agency ran a brief report saying Vice President Xi “arrived at China Agricultural University Saturday morning for activities marking this year’s National Science Popularization Day.”
As is often the case in the opaque world of Chinese politics, there was no mention of why he had been sidelined since his last public appearance on Sept. 1. Since then, the 59-year-old son of Communist Revolution royalty has canceled meetings with visiting US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, along with dignitaries from Singapore and Russia.
The official explanation was that he had suffered a back injury and needed time to recuperate. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Xi’s cancelation of the Clinton meeting should not raise “unnecessary speculation.”
But unnecessary speculation was raised anyway, as foreign media began reporting on rumors (or perhaps starting them) that more sinister elements were at play.
“Chinese politics at the top is often like palace politics — typical of dynastic secrecy,” wrote Lo Shiu Hing, a Chinese political expert at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, in an email to GlobalPost.
“Journalists are prone to grasp any rumor so as to guess what happened with Xi,” Lo said. “Palace politics in China versus relatively more transparent politics in the US explains this strange situation. Also, political sensationalism can attract the world’s attention. Using rumors to report on Xi was a natural and an irresistible tendency.”