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China's prez-in-waiting shows up amid rumours of illness

September 15, 2012 19:58 IST

China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping made his first public appearance on Saturday after two weeks of a much-talked-about absence, putting to rest for the time being rumours about the vice president's illness.

In a carefully choreographed move, Xi, 59 attended the most innocuous function to mark the National Science Popularisation Day at the Beijing-based China Agricultural University amid glare of print and television media which maintained a steadied silence when rumours of Xi's illness dominated world headlines.

Xi has been officially projected as successor to President Hu Jintao and expected to take over early next year.

A section of the foreign media was tipped off about his visit as he made an appearance at the university.

While state-run Xinhua news agency, which flashed the news of his appearance released pictures of him appearing at the university, official CCTV showed a lengthy footage of him interacting with staff and students at its most watched 7 PM news.

Dressed in casual black jacket, Xi, who was officially stated to have suffered a back injury while swimming, walked around with ease but looked weak as he delivered an impromptu speech calling for strengthening public food and health knowledge toward food safety issues.

Few foreign reporters who were allowed kept at a distance.

Xi was not seen in public since September 1. Speculation about his illness gained ground after he failed to keep up with the scheduled meetings with visiting dignitaries like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt among others.

While officials informally said he suffered a back injury while swimming, foreign media reports speculated that he suffered a hearth attack or cancer to liver problem. One report even said he sustained multiple injuries in a car accident along another CPC leader.

Xi has become the most important in Chinese politics in recent months as he is set to succeed Hu both as president and general secretary of the party at the 18th Party Congress set to take place in the next few weeks.

He is set to take over power from Hu early next year.

President formally heads the country's high powered military commission, which govern the 2.8 million strong People's Liberation Army.

His prolonged absence has created speculation that elaborate succession plan worked out by the party has gone haywire.

Observers say his appearance is big relief for the ruling Communist Party of China even though, speculation would continue about the state of his health in the future.

According to the succession plan which has to be approved by the Party Congress expected to be held next month, Xi will succeed Hu, while Vice Premier, Li Keqiang would take over as Premier succeeding Wen Jiabao, who is set to retire along with Hu.

Xi's illness and absence from the public view has sparked off rumours of intensified factional feud in the backdrop of recent scandal over disgraced senior Party leader, Bo Xilai whose wife was given a suspended death sentence in the murder case of British businessman, Neil Heywood.

While Bo, hardline attempting to revive old Mao Zedong's policies was expected to go on trial for aiding his wife to conceal the murder, his close aid, the trial of Wang Lijun who gate crashed into the US Consulate in February this year seeking asylum will be held on Sept 19 for attempting defect as well as aiding and abetting the murder.

Wang, who was investigating the case, sought refuge fearing reprisals.

The case seriously dented the image of the CPC leaders and exposed their links with business world, as Bo's wife Gu Kailai has admitted she chose to kill Heywood fearing for the safety of her son after falling out with Heywood over a business deal.

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