China VP Xi’s Absence From Public Fuels Speculation

China's Vice President Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping, vice president of China, visits the China Shipping terminal at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. Source: Bloomberg

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s absence from public events for more than a week fueled speculation about the health of the leading candidate to succeed President Hu Jintao in a once-in-a-decade leadership change.

Since speaking at the Party School of the Communist Party on Sept. 1, Xi canceled a Sept. 5 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After foreign journalists in Beijing were told the same day that Xi would meet Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Sept. 10, the event wasn’t included in an official agenda distributed Sept. 7. The foreign ministry said yesterday no such meeting was planned.

Secrecy surrounding China’s leadership, combined with the ouster of Politburo member Bo Xilai earlier this year, has left investors with limited information on who’ll be overseeing the world’s second-biggest economy. The Communist Party has yet to release the dates for the gathering anticipated in coming weeks where the next generation of policy makers will be appointed.

“China is the second-largest economy in the world and Beijing is one of the central stages of international diplomacy,” said Yawei Liu, director of the China Program at the Atlanta-based Carter Center. “Open government information is absolutely crucial for the government to maintain political stability. The lack of transparency will weaken the wobbling legitimacy even more.”

Shanghai Composite

The Shanghai Composite Index has risen 3.8 percent since Sept. 5, the day Xi and Clinton were supposed to meet. The cost of insuring Chinese sovereign bonds against default fell to the lowest in more than a year yesterday, according to data provider CMA.

The Clinton meeting was canceled after Xi injured his back, the Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 5, citing an unnamed U.S. official. The cancellation was a “normal adjustment,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Sept. 5.

Asked four times about Xi at a briefing today, Hong said he had no information about the vice president’s health and declined to give details about his whereabouts.

“I hope you will raise some serious questions,” Hong said. “Next question.”

‘Timely Introduction’

In his last public appearance, at the Party School, Xi urged cadres to “constantly absorb new knowledge” to improve their level of leadership.

“We must firmly establish the correct view of the world, power and career, and develop a broad mind and vision, noble interests, and a plain style of living, and always be the loyal public servants of the people,” Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Other Chinese leaders have continued to make public appearances. Hu attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia, over the weekend and Premier Wen Jiabao was scheduled to speak today at the World Economic Forum’s conference in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.

A week after the ouster of Bo as party chief of the municipality of Chongqing, speculation of a coup spread on the Internet, helping spark the biggest jump in credit-default swaps on Chinese government bonds in four months. Six people accused of spreading the coup rumors were later detained.

Bo, once seen as a candidate for inclusion in the new leadership group to be appointed this year, was suspended from the Politburo in April for “serious violations of discipline,” according to Xinhua. His wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted last month of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

— With assistance by John Liu

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