Twelve days is a long time to go without a mention — at least if you're China's president-in-waiting.
Xi Jinping, 59, the man tapped to succeed President Hu Jintao next month, hasn't been seen or heard from since Sept. 1, prompting intense speculation in the foreign media, among China watchers and in blogs, tweets and forums, as we reported earlier.
One theory is that Xi suffered a temporarily incapacitating injury, but on the extreme end of the rumor spectrum, others have hypothesized that Xi is no longer among the living.
But dead men offer no condolences and the Communist Party's website listed Xi as among five top leaders who expressed their sympathies on the passing of a former general last week (at the ripe old age of 102):
"Comrades Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, Li Yuanchao, Zhu Rongji and Li Zhaozhuo, through various means, expressed their condolences at the death of Comrade Huang Rong and their deep sympathies to his relatives," said the short statement. [emphasis added]
Other than perhaps tamping down the fringe theories, the report does little else to solve the mystery of Xi or quell the rumors. And the cagey responses from China's Foreign Ministry to continued questioning haven't helped either.
The explanation first offered to American officials for the cancellation of a meeting scheduled between Xi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week was that the Chinese leader had suffered a back injury.
Asked on Thursday, for the fourth day in a row, about Xi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman rebuffed reporters, saying: "I have already answered that question."
Also on Thursday, The Associated Press quoted Hong Kong's Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy as saying that a small cancerous growth had been discovered on Xi's liver on Sept. 2 and that the leader had undergone surgery to remove it at an elite military hospital in Beijing.
However, a man who answered the phone at the hospital said the report was "only rumors," and that, after all, "Information about the leaders' health is a big secret, known only to people at the highest levels."
And, at least for now, it looks like it will stay that way.