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|11 Eylül 2012, 16:33||#1 (permalink)|
Communist Leaders Absence Sets Off Rumor Mills in China
BEIJING The strange disappearance from public view of Chinas presumptive new leader is turning a year that was supposed to showcase the Communist Partys stability into something of an annus horribilis.
Over the past week, the new leader, Xi Jinping, has missed at least three scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last Wednesday and the prime minister of Denmark on Monday. So far officials have declined to provide an explanation for his absences.
That set off furious speculation on the Internet that the 59-year-old Mr. Xis health, either physical or political, has taken a turn for the worse. Some diplomats say they have heard that Mr. Xi suffered a pulled muscle while swimming or playing soccer. One media report, since retracted, had it that Mr. Xi was hurt in an auto accident when a military official tried to injure or kill him in a revenge plot. A well-connected political analyst in Beijing said in an interview that Mr. Xi might have had a mild heart attack.
Whatever the actual reason, Mr. Xis unexplained absences are conspicuous on the eve of what is supposed to be Chinas once-in-a-decade transfer of power. It also adds to a litany of woes that have disrupted the Communist Partys hopes that a seamless political transition would send a signal of stability to the Chinese people and the world at large.
Two unusual political scandals have sidelined people considered contenders for seats on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, most recently including a close ally of President Hu Jintaos. Chinas economy has fallen into an unexpectedly deep slump, confounding government forecasts for a measured slowdown. Party leaders have also yet to announce a date for the 18th Party Congress, the event to mark the retirement of this generation of leaders and the accession of the next, though it is supposed to take place as soon as next month.
Mr. Xi was designated internally as the presumptive heir to Mr. Hu as the leader of the Communist Party, head of state and chairman of the top military oversight body in 2007, a full five years before he was expected to assume those posts. Party bosses have tried to name future leaders well in advance to prevent destabilizing jockeying for power. Smooth transitions are considered by many Chinese as a crucial test of the Communist Partys longevity, and its leaders are eager to make the case that their authoritarian system can manage China better than a multiparty democracy could.
Analysts who follow Chinese politics say the transition is still likely to happen roughly along the planned lines. They also say that the core leadership team around Mr. Xi is slowly taking shape, with the lineup of the Standing Committee coming into focus as the congress draws near.
But at the very least, the atmospherics are turning out to be far messier than envisioned, with officials stumbling to maintain their usual careful choreography.
Last Wednesday, after Mr. Xi did not meet Mrs. Clinton and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, diplomats said privately that he had a bad back.
On Monday, the situation got odder. Foreign journalists had been invited to a photo opportunity between Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark. On Monday, however, the Foreign Ministry denied that any such meeting had been scheduled and said other Chinese officials would meet the Danish leader.
We have told everybody everything, said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei.
While Chinese leaders often do not appear in public for long periods, canceling meetings with foreign dignitaries at the last minute is highly unusual. Adding to the uncertainty is the lack of an official statement of any kind, with observers speculating about car crashes and heart attacks.
Theres every sort of crazy rumor about Xis health, said a senior Chinese journalist, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity surrounding the case. But no one is saying anything.
Mr. Xis absence comes during a year when the Chinese political system has suffered serious blows.
This spring, the senior leader Bo Xilai vanished from view, and soon after, his wife was charged with murdering a British businessman. She was eventually tried and convicted over the summer, and his police chief, Wang Lijun, who has been accused of covering up the murder and other crimes, could face trial soon.
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