BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping reappeared on state television Tuesday after a days-long absence from public view that sparked rumors about the 69-year-old leader’s political fortunes.
Xi was shown visiting an exhibition at the Beijing Exhibition Center themed “Forging ahead in the new era”.
Accompanied by Premier Li Keqiang and other senior leaders, Xi, who also heads the ruling Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army, viewed some of the exhibits and commented on China’s economic progress. over the past decade.
The visit was Xi’s first television appearance since returning from a regional summit in Uzbekistan last weekend.
Under Chinese pandemic regulations, he is expected to remain in quarantine for a week after his return.
China’s opaque system frequently gives rise to rumors of political wrangling or coup attempts, despite the stable nature of the authoritarian surveillance state that relentlessly suppresses any sign of dissent. Xi has been widely considered China’s most powerful leader for decades, has no known active challengers and has removed constitutional term limits, allowing him to rule for life if he chooses.
It is not uncommon for Chinese leaders to be absent for days or even weeks, for example to attend informal political meetings held each summer in the seaside resort of Beidaihe.
However, the timing of Xi’s absence just weeks before the convening of a key party congress held once every five years has fueled the rumor mill. Xi is set to receive a third five-year term as party leader at the congress beginning Oct. 16, breaking a recent tradition that limited leaders to two terms.
China policy expert Kerry Brown said he was highly skeptical of Xi’s brief absence.
“I guess if there had been deep dissatisfaction with Xi’s leadership in the elite…we would have seen at least some evidence,” said Brown, a Chinese studies professor and director of the Lau. China Institute at King’s College London. “And I don’t think we’ve seen much evidence of that.”
The party is inherently risk averse, and any person or group seeking such drastic action would be hard pressed to attack an edifice that has been built almost entirely around Xi, Brown said.
Rumors of coups and infighting are not unusual ahead of sensitive political dates, but the People’s Liberation Army – the party’s armed wing – has been disciplined by an extensive anti-corruption campaign.
“I think it may be wishful thinking in Hong Kong and elsewhere,” he said. “I don’t think that’s very believable.”