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May 27, 2017

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Rumors fly over 'heir apparent' Xi Jinping

The absence of China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping at scheduled public events for more than a week has set off a storm rumors worldwide. Some have claimed that Xi is suffering from minor ailments, while others have claimed that he is being replaced as "heir apparent."

Xi, who is due to take over the presidency of the world's second-largest economy in March next year, has skipped several meetings with visiting foreign leaders and dignitaries over the past week, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the prime ministers of Singapore and Denmark.

China's government, however, has declined to spell out what has happened to Xi, 59, in keeping with decades of official secrecy over the health of senior leaders — a tradition viewed in the West as out of step with a modern state and emerging superpower.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said yesterday that the government has "nothing to add" on Xi's absence, and refrained from confirming which of the party's leaders will be attending the opening ceremony of the China-ASEAN Expo in Guangxi on Sept. 21. Earlier reports said that Xi was scheduled to attend that event.

Reuters reported yesterday that Xi is nursing an ailment, possibly a back injury suffered while swimming.

"Xi injured his back when he went for his daily swim," a source close to the Beijing leadership said after Xi's absence from the public stage was first noticed last week after he had failed to keep scheduled meetings with Clinton and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The source declined to give further details on the injury, including exactly when and where the incident took place.

Another source also said that the injury happened when Xi went swimming. "Xi pulled a (back) muscle when he went swimming," the source said.

A third source, citing people close to Xi, said: "He's unwell, but it's not a big problem."

All three sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The News York Times, however, quoted "a well-connected political analyst in Beijing" as saying that Xi might have had a mild heart attack.

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