Faced with persistent rumours over the prolonged absence of Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao, Chinese officials on Tuesday informally clarified that he is nursing a back injury suffered during swimming.
Speculation fuelled by online rumours about a car crash in which he was reportedly injured along with another top Communist Party official was rife ever since 59-year-old Xi skipped a scheduled meeting with visiting US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on September 5.
Xi reportedly wrote to Clinton later regretting the cancellation of the meeting due to the back injury.
Since then he was not seen in public and cancelled yet another meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Monday.
The Chinese foreign ministry appeared to have been caught by surprise as the its spokesman Hong Lei was badgered with questions about Xi's whereabouts for the past two days.
He in turn kept repeating that he had no information to provide in this regard.
The press briefing at the foreign ministry here today was charged up when a foreign correspondent asked whether Xi was alive.
Hong retorted saying "I hope you can ask a serious question."
But later officials informally clarified to the media that Xi suffered a muscle injury while swimming recently and pulled back muscle but declined to say when he will be back in his office.
Xi's absence meanwhile is holding back announcement for the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Congress in which he would be formally ad general secretary of the Party as well.
He will succeed Hu next year as President.
Everything is ready for the Congress, including the election of 2,270 delegates to represent the 82 million strong party.
The Congress, which is held five years would select a new leadership after a decade besides formulating new policies to face the present economic down turn as well as political and economic reforms.