The Chinese government’s refusal to comment on the health and status of the country’s leader in waiting - Vice President Xi Jinping - is fueling a wide range of rumors about his well-being, as well as speculation about the country’s leadership transition.
In China, the public has been told nothing about Xi Jinping’s recent absence from at least three scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries and his disappearance from the public limelight for more than a week.
On popular Twitter-like microblogging sites, such as Weibo, searches for Xi Jinping were blocked.
Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong says it is anybody’s guess what may have happened to Xi Jinping.
“Apparently the Chinese authorities do not have a sense of accountability to the public. And, they believe that health issues involving the top leaders should be kept secret,” said Cheng.
But he adds that does not help when the rest of China and the world is closely watching the country’s expected leadership succession.
“This lack of transparency has, in fact, generated a lot of unnecessary and unhealthy speculation,” he stated.
It is not the first time this has happened. Last year, speculation about the health and condition of former president Jiang Zemin was so rampant that the state-run Xinhua news agency was forced to release a statement in English denying Jiang had died.
On Tuesday, The Chinese Foreign Ministry was asked whether Xi is in good health. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he had no information. When asked if Xi is still alive, he responded by saying he welcomes only serious questions.
Many of the rumors and speculation about Xi Jinping’s condition and where he might have gone have been spreading online on Chinese language and social media sites, as well as in newspapers in Hong Kong.
“There are various types of rumors and we have no grounds to believe or reject these rumors," Cheng added. For example, there was a story that he was hurt in a car accident and that the accident might have been deliberate, that kind of thing.”
On Tuesday, Reuters news agency quoted a source with close ties to China’s leadership as saying that Xi suffered an injury, possibly a back injury, while swimming.
The source did not say when or where the injury occurred, but added that, although Xi was not well, the injury was not a major problem.
Rumors have been swirling in the run up to China’s leadership reshuffle and have become particularly rampant following the suspension of former Communist Party rising star Bo Xilai and the conviction of his wife for the murder of a British businessman.
Still, most political analysts say there have been no signs, so far, that China's once in a decade leadership transition is not on track.