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China’s next leader has not been seen in public for 11 days because he suffered a heart attack, a source has told The Daily Telegraph.Xi Jinping is expected to be unveiled as the leader of the Communist party in the coming weeks, but his disappearance from the public eye has sparked increasing speculation.
“Although people have said he suffered a back injury, he actually had a heart attack, a myocardial infarction,” said Li Weidong, a political commentator in Beijing and the former editor of China Reform.
The magazine is influential among Chinese policymakers and under the aegis of the National Development and Reform Commission.
Other unnamed sources have also suggested that Mr Xi, 59, suffered a heart attack, while Willy Lam, the former editor of the South China Morning Post, believes China’s president-in-waiting had a stroke and is currently unable to show his face in public.
Mr Xi has not been spotted since September 1 and cancelled a series of meetings with foreign leaders, including one with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of State, on September 4.
The Communist party has remained tight-lipped about his situation. For the third day in a row, the foreign ministry batted away repeated questions at its daily press conference. A spokesman merely said: “I have no information.”
For the second day in a row, almost all of China’s other top leaders were featured on the country’s evening news bulletins, but Mr Xi was absent.
Mr Li said that Mr Xi’s illness was not severe enough to disrupt the 18th Party Congress, at which China will unveil its first set of new leaders in 10 years. The date of the Congress has not been announced, but most observers believe it will occur in mid-October.
“I heard the agenda for the Congress will not be changed, which means that Mr Xi will have recovered beforehand,” he said. Other sources have also indicated that, so far, plans for the Congress have not been affected.
However, since the 1990s, the Communist party has typically given at least a month’s notice before a Congress. If there is no announcement this week, that could indicate that this year’s event has been postponed.
One of the five main hotels in Beijing booked out by delegates also reportedly suggested yesterday that there may be a delay, but the other four said they had been block-booked from the end of September to the beginning of November and that no date had yet been set.
In the vacuum of information, other rumours spread yesterday that Mr Xi was, in fact, perfectly healthy but hard at work. A magazine in Hong Kong, iSun Affairs, said a relative of Mr Xi’s had sent a text message indicating that “all is well”.
And Fan Jinggang, the manager of the “Leftist” Utopia forum, which espouses the ideas of Chairman Mao, said a “reliable source” had told him that “Mr Xi is in good health”. Mr Fan blamed the fevered rumours in Beijing on a foreign media bent on stirring up controversy ahead of the Communist party’s leadership transition.
At the 301 Military Hospital in Beijing, the facility that often treats top leaders, there was no sign of any extra security. Staff said they had not noticed any unusual activity and that they did not know if Mr Xi was in the compound.
Linda Jacobson, a China expert at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, wrote in a comment piece yesterday that if Mr Xi was genuinely ill, she would expect senior leaders to change their schedules.
“That is standard Communist party practice at a time of crisis,” she noted. “Yet Hu Jintao did not cut short his trip to Vladivostok for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; another senior leader, Wu Bangguo, travelled to Iran; and a third high-ranking official has visited Sichuan this week.”
If he has suffered a heart attack, Mr Xi’s aides may be delaying an announcement until he is well enough to present an image of strength.
When Chairman Mao was dealing with party infighting in 1965, he demonstrated his power by swimming across the Yangtze river at the age of 72.
It is also not unknown for Chinese leaders to suffer serious illnesses in secret. In April 1993, Li Peng, the then premier, disappeared for six weeks after a heart attack. The foreign ministry said he had “a cold” and confirmation that he had been treated in hospital did not come until this July.
Additional reporting by Valentina Luo
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