With still no sign of China's designated new leader, Xi Jinping, who has not been seen in public since September 1, many insiders and well-connected analysts say the Chinese political ship is adrift, with factions jockeying to shape an impending Communist Party conclave.
By Thursday, a number of ranking party members with years of experience following Chinese politics were generally in agreement that Xi, 59, had suffered either a mild heart attack or a stroke, forcing him to cancel his appointments.
“The most reliable information we can find is that it’s his heart,” said a senior Chinese newspaper editor. Li Weidong, a former editor of a government-sponsored journal, agreed.
Even if Xi does soon show up in public, he will be re-entering an unexpectedly contentious political arena.
Planned years in advance, the 18th Party Congress is slated to be the most sweeping government reorganisation in a decade, with scores of leaders scheduled to retire. It was still expected to take place next month or soon after in Beijing, where Xi was to take over as leader from Hu Jintao. The Communist Party has numerous factions, but the overall framework of the transfer was thought to have been mostly ironed out over the past year.
But recent developments, including Xi’s mysterious cancellation of several public appearances, suggest that may not be the case.