There is mounting speculation in Hong Kong that the territory's embattled chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, has resigned more than two years ahead of schedule. The former shipping magnate has been plagued by political and economic crises throughout his years in office.
Local news reports say Tung Chee-hwa has submitted his resignation to authorities in Beijing because of health concerns.
By late Wednesday there was still no official confirmation of the rumors. And Mr. Tung refused to discuss the issue when he spoke to reporters as he arrived in Beijing for meetings with the country's leaders.
He says he knows everyone has many questions but he will make an announcement at an appropriate time.
If he has resigned, the 67-year-old Mr. Tung could leave office in a matter of days.
Political analysts think the widely unpopular leader has been edged out by Beijing, which hopes a new chief executive might ease political tensions in Hong Kong.
Analyst Christine Loh says Mr. Tung has become a lightening rod for public contempt and political concerns.
"People perceive him to be very stubborn," she explained. "People perceive him to have handled a number of major policy issues very poorly, so they don't see him as a competent leader."
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but has great autonomy. The city retains a Western-style legal system and civil rights that are greater than those granted in mainland China. Mr. Tung became the city's chief executive in 1997, after being selected by a Beijing appointed committee.
He was reappointed more than two years ago.
However, Mr. Tung has been severely criticized at home for his handling of the economy and the SARS outbreak in 2003, which resulted in more than 200 deaths.
He also resisted demands for democratic reforms while trying to push through a controversial security law.
In response, pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong staged massive public protests in 2003 and 2004. In the face of such opposition, Mr. Tung eventually halted efforts to pass the security law.
Christine Loh says that after the first demonstration in 2003, Beijing challenged Mr. Tung to address public concerns regarding his leadership.
"But Mr. Tung has failed to do that, to the extent that top Chinese leaders conclude that it's better for Mr. Tung to go than to stay," she said.
In December, Chinese President Hu Jintao publicly criticized Mr. Tung's performance.
Earlier this week Chinese authorities suggested Mr. Tung will serve on a national advisory board often reserved for recently retired officials.
That announcement, seen by many as a face saving gesture for Mr. Tung, fueled conjecture that he would be stepping down.