China’s media reported on Vice President Xi Jinping’s activities for the first time since Sept. 1, signaling the Communist Party may be countering speculation his absence would disrupt a transfer of power.
The official Guangxi Daily reported today that Xi, who is forecast to become China’s next president and general secretary of the 82 million-strong party in a leadership change later this year, joined other top Chinese officials in sending condolences to the family of a party member who died on Sept. 6. The story was also posted on the Communist Party’s website.
“It is a sign by the top leadership to reassure the world that nothing excessively bad or disruptive has happened to Xi Jinping,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Of course this doesn’t allay people’s suspicions about whether he will be a physically fit general secretary.”
The vacuum of news on Xi, 59, had stoked concerns about the leadership succession. The scandal surrounding ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai had already clouded the transition of power and the party still hasn’t announced the date of the congress where the handover to a new generation of leaders will begin.
Speculation about Xi began after he canceled meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week. The Wall Street Journal reported that Xi may have injured his back swimming. The Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper, citing unidentified sources, reported today that Xi suffered a heart attack.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that the cancellations were a “normal adjustment.” Asked about Xi’s appearance in state media today, Hong said he had “noticed” the relevant reports and declined to address Xi’s health. He said preparations were “well underway” for the party congress and a date would be announced “in due course.”
“We’re not really concerned that he’s gone from all the meetings,” Justin Harper, a Singapore-based market strategist at IG Markets, said by phone today. “The change of leadership in China should still go smoothly. It highlights the fact that China needs to catch up with rest of the world.”
Xi, President Hu Jintao, former Premier Zhu Rongji and other leaders sent their condolences to the family of Huang Rong, who died at age 102, the Guangxi Daily reported on its website. The report didn’t say when Xi sent his condolences and didn’t quote him or include a picture of him.
He Guoqiang, a Politburo Standing Committee member whose public absence since late August had been linked to Xi’s, appeared on state television yesterday visiting Chinese newspapers. Citing an unidentified government source, the U.S.- based website Boxun.com reported earlier that He and Xi may have been hurt in car accidents.
Chinese stocks have risen since Xi canceled his meeting with Clinton, suggesting no sign of investor unease about his absence or China’s upcoming political transition. The Shanghai Composite Index has risen more than 3 percent since Sept. 5. 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 run-up to the Communist Party congress has been complicated by Bo’s ouster, in the country’s deepest political crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Bo’s wife was convicted last month of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood and he was suspended in April from the Politburo on allegations of violating party discipline.
“We’re expecting this transition to take place as everyone is expecting -- indeed its very predictability seems to be its defining characteristic,” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview broadcast yesterday.
The speculation over Xi hasn’t affected Australia’s ties with its top export destination, Carr said. “Nor has it affected the decision-making in China, as far as we can judge.”