The man expected to take over China's presidency hasn't been heard from in nine days, and with no official explanation for his absence, the state is making some bizarre attempts to downplay his disappearance. Meanwhile, the Chinese Internet is rife with rumors about what happened to Vice President Xi Jinping, ranging form a soccer injury to a car crash. Last week, Xi broke off appointments with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and a Russian diplomatic delegation last week, according to the Financial Times' Jamil Anderlini, and he was a no-show Monday for a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The Telegraph's Malcolm Moore notes that this latest absence isn't without precedent, writing, "he had been absent for another six-day period between August 22 and 29." But the latest absence is already longer, and comes a month before the expected Communist Party congress at which Xi is due to take over leadership from President Hu Jintao. No date has been set for that, but the last one took place in October.
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What makes the story especially bizarre is the Chinese government's awkward attempts to disguise Xi's absence. "China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that the meeting between Mr. Xi and the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, had been scheduled," The New York Times' Ian Johnson wrote. "Last week, however, the ministry had invited the foreign press for a photo opportunity with the two leaders." FT's Anderlini adds: "In an apparent attempt to quash rumors he had fallen out of favour, Monday’s edition of the Study Times, a major official Communist Party newspaper, ran a front page article based on a speech Mr Xi gave on September 1, the last time he was seen in public."
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Most of the online rumors, about his absence, which the AP chronicled in greatest detail, have Xi getting injured in a soccer match or possibly while swimming, but some have suggested he was injured in a staged traffic accident as revenge for the downfall of disgraced Communist Party official Bo Xilai. But as South China Morning Post editor Wang Xiangwei wrote on Monday, per the AP, "baring Xi himself offering a very unlikely explanation today about his canceled meetings last week, the outside world may never know the exact reason, and the rumors are unlikely to fade away." First, though, Xi will have to reappear.