The Economist’s Analects blog has a good roundup of all of the news surrounding the disappearance of Xi Jinping, who still hasn’t materialized after a few days of growing rumors about his whereabouts:
A clear answer as to Mr Xi’s whereabouts or condition would have put the matter quickly to rest. But no such answer was forthcoming. Asked moments earlier whether Mr Xi had been injured or whether he was “fit and well”, [Foreign Ministry Spokesman] Hong Lei replied tersely, “I have no information on that to provide to you.”
Questions do linger, and not only about Mr Xi’s health. That in itself is of course a matter of great import. He is currently China’s vice president, looks a bullish 59 years old, and has been groomed as the man who in coming months will replace Hu Jintao, the outgoing president and Communist Party chief, to lead China for the next ten years.
Beyond the immediate questions about Mr Xi’s physical and political well-being loom other disturbing questions about the widening mismatch between China’s Leninist politics and black-box opacity on the one hand, and its growing economic and political importance on the other.
Among the tales spun from these mills were reports that Mr Xi had injured his back (while swimming or playing football—take your pick). Or that he had suffered a stroke. Or a heart attack (mild or severe—again, take your pick). Or that he was injured in a politically motivated attack while in his car. Or that he has merely been sidelined politically in last-minute manoeuvring in the delicate political transition process that is now under way.
These rumours bear repeating not because any have been reported with anything like corroborating information, but because they illustrate the nature of the information vacuum that China’s system produces, and the nature of what rushes in to fill it.