Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping has made his first public communication in nearly two weeks, state media said on Thursday, amid swirling speculation about the whereabouts of Beijing’s leader-in-waiting.
Xi has not been seen in public for 13 days and has cancelled meetings with four foreign dignitaries including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, giving rise to intense speculation about his health.
His unexplained disappearance has come at a highly sensitive time for China, which is gearing up for a generational handover of power that has already been marred by two major political scandals involving senior communist officials.
On Thursday, state media said he had “expressed condolences on the death of old party comrade Huang Rong”, who died on September 6 – a day after Xi missed a planned meeting with Clinton.
The report in the Guangxi Daily newspaper – mouthpiece of the Communist Party committee in China’s southern Guangxi region – marked the first public communication by Xi since he delivered a speech on September 1.
The news was published widely in China, but made no mention of Xi’s health, which has been the subject of widespread speculation in recent days. His reported ailments have ranged from a heart attack to a back ache.
Xi has been widely tipped to succeed President Hu Jintao as leader of the ruling Communist Party at a crucial meeting that is expected to be held sometime next month, before taking over as head of state in March.
His disappearance from public view has attracted global attention, as well as some speculation on China’s popular but heavily censored microblogs.