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China’s Disappearing Act

Xi Jinping, China’s next leader, is still missing, having been absent from the public eye for more than ten days. Beijing has been less than forthcoming about his whereabouts. The latest reports suggest that his absence is medical rather than political:

Three sources close to the Chinese leadership familiar with internal accounts of Xi’s condition said the 59-year-old had been nursing a back injury, and simply obeying doctors’ orders to rest and undergo physiotherapy as he prepares for the leadership transition later this year. . . .

A third source said Xi could make a public appearance as soon as Saturday, but no other details were immediately available.

China’s nightmare power transition continues. It was supposed to be a showcase of the stability of China’s governing system, but it has conveyed exactly the opposite impression. From the crisis over Bo Xilai to the present mystery surrounding Xi, nearly everything about this transition has been a disaster.

The whole mess has highlighted how complicated the world of the Chinese Communist Party has become. There are so many factions, so many competing economic interests, so many bigwigs who like to be heard on every issue that the party finds it harder and harder to take clear, firm positions. Combine that with a country that is itself becoming more complex and harder to govern, and where public opinion increasingly demands to be heard, and you get a picture of just how much potential there is in China for real crisis.

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