Xi ended some of the speculation by reappearing yesterday, but exactly what took him out of the public eye for so long remains unsaid. From Ian Johnson:
Mr. Xi, 59, was shown in photographs, posted on the Web site of the official Xinhua news agency, as he walked through the campus of China Agriculture University in Beijing for National Science Popularization Day. One of the photographs was accompanied by a brief caption saying that he would attend activities at the university on Saturday.
Mr. Xi, whose health had been called into question, looked fit, dressed in dark slacks, an open-collar white dress shirt and a dark jacket — the unofficial uniform of Communist Party officials out on inspection. He was flanked by several other officials in similar clothing.
It was the first time that Mr. Xi had been seen in public since he gave a speech on Sept. 1 to students at a party indoctrination school that he runs. Since then, he had canceled at least two meetings with foreign dignitaries and was conspicuously absent from evening newscasts or party-run newspapers, which usually give detailed accounts of the activities of top leaders. The report on Saturday did not mention any of this, part of a policy of not commenting on the health of leaders. Over the past week, government spokespeople have consistently refused to address the issue.
Meanwhile, John Garnaut from The Age has a piece confidently stating that Xi plans to take away some of the power that the Chinese security bureau has accumulated over the last decade:
Officials and analysts are confident that the leader of the security portfolio will be banished from the innermost leadership circle at the 18th Party Congress, as part of a downsizing of the Politburo Standing Committee from nine people to seven.
Downgrading the status of the internal security apparatus would be “perhaps the most important” initiative in the coming Congress, said Huang Jing, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.
“The leader who controls the gun will not be allowed to sit in the supreme decision-making organ,” he said.
Leading scholars, such as Tsinghua University sociologist Sun Liping, have argued that China’s “stability preservation” regime has hijacked the reform agenda and thrown China’s political, social and economic life into a state of “abnormality”.
Efforts to forcefully impose stability have led to regular examples of Kafkaesque justice, where aggrieved citizens are persecuted for voicing their complaints, and those episodes are being broadcast across new internet and micro-blog networks.
The most high-profile case is that of Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who Shandong authorities had spent $US9.5 million on beating, monitoring and detaining under house arrest because of his advocacy against illegal forced abortions, and who nevertheless escaped to the US embassy in Beijing.
David Kelly, research director at China Policy, a Beijing advisory, pointed to a dynamic of perverse bureaucratic and political incentives where actors were rewarded with resources and power for exacerbating social instability.
“It’s not simply an exercise in totalitarian revivalism, because of the role of money,” he said.