For the past two weeks, Xi Jinping’s disappearance and reappearance in public view have occupied the front pages of newspapers all over the world. When the high-profile meeting between Xi and Hillary Clinton was suddenly cancelled on September 5th, major western media started to mention the unexpected disappearance as if it was yet another case for Sherlock Holmes.

The story started when Clinton was visiting China to resolve U.S. differences over a number of issues, including the crisis in Syria — and the controversy regarding the islands in the South China Sea. The unexplained cancellation of the meeting was interpreted by some western media as China’s unwillingness to address these problems head-on.

The story picked up some mystery when the cancellation was followed by continued Xi absence.  Three days later, on September 8th, Xi did not attend a meeting with THE Central Military Commission.  On September 11th, when being asked about Xi’s health, China’s official Foreign Ministry spokesperson offered no specific answer. A day after that, a still-missing Xi offered verbal condolences on the death of a veteran party member (the condolences are usually delivered by the high-ranking official himself in person at the funeral).

After the aforementioned developments, China’s “vanishing” leader-in-future became a hot news story. Speculations revolved mainly around Xi’s health. In less than two months Xi Jinping will allegedly take over the No.1 job in China and a health issue is one of the least things Xi wants before he takes over. But Chinese newspaper tradition rarely allows front page stories base on the fallacy of ‘appeal to ignorance’: That is to say, Xi’s short absence from public view by itself does not logically lead to newsworthy stories.

Then, from the Chinese media perspective: a big of redemption: Two days before this article is written, Xi showed up in a seminar at an university in China.

So what really happened in these two weeks? One interesting fact that might be overlooked by the over-speculating western media is that for the past two weeks, China’s mainstream media was flooded by news related to the Senkaku island dispute with Japan. Chinese citizens started riots in major cities in China, burning Japanese cars and stores. No story about the disappearance of their future leader was on the mainstream media. However, microbloggers were passively passing around rumors.

So, what we do know now (all rumors aside) is Xi is clearly poised to be the next leader China but there is a glitch in the transition period. We also know that a lot of uncertainty exists before the 18th National Congress settles into action. Maybe a new leader candidate will surface between now and October. Who knows? But whoever does wind up taking the job will have to deal with one of the most convoluted society in this century. Good luck.

Go to:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-talk-of-china.html?_r=1&ref=thomaslfriedman

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