Rumors rife as China's Xi disappears from public view amid virus outbreak

Xi’s leadership under mounting pressure as China struggles to keep coronavirus in check

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Xi Jinping.

Xi Jinping. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) has not appeared in public for six days, sparking rumors about his whereabouts as China scrambles to rein in the novel coronavirus outbreak which has shown no signs of abating.

The last time Xi made a public appearance was on Jan. 28, when he discussed the country’s response to the health crisis in a meeting with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.

Every move of the Chinese leadership is confidential and traditionally only allowed to be published by state media. The fact that Xi has not shown up in any footage on China Central Television (CCTV) between Jan. 29 and Feb. 3 is extremely uncommon and has raised eyebrows in some quarters.

CCTV ran a report on Monday (Feb. 3) about a rare meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee in which Xi instructed officials to work together to curb the virus, which he said could impact China’s economic and social stability. The 13-minute long story, however, did not feature any photos or footage of the Chinese leader, wrote CNA.

While Xi has vowed an all-out effort to fight the disease, it is Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), the No. 2 figure in China’s leadership, who has spearheaded the national response to the outbreak. Political observers surmise that this could be part of Xi’s maneuvering to shirk responsibility should things go wrong, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The coronavirus could also prove a challenge to China’s centralized system, according to the Financial Times, under which Xi has tightened his grip since he took power in 2012. Zhou Xianwang (周先旺), the mayor of Wuhan, has been outspoken in saying that his city failed to disclose timely the dire situation of the outbreak because “he needed authorization from Beijing.”

Unlike political events in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which Beijing blames on “hostile foreign forces,” there will be no excuses for mishandling the coronavirus, a self-evidently native disruption of Chinese society, said FT.