TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — During a speech in Shenzhen on Wednesday (Oct. 14) Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平) suffered a coughing fit, prompting netizens to speculate on the health of the communist regime's leader, and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) sat a noticeable distance away.
The occasion was a conference marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. Originally slated for 10 a.m., Xi's remarks were inexplicably delayed, and he did not begin until 11:12 p.m.
During the 52-minute speech, Xi spoke at an unusually slow pace compared to previous talks. About 7 minutes before finishing, Xi frequently paused to drink water and coughed on several occasions, turning heads in the usually staid audience of communist cadres.
Taiwan News estimates that Xi coughed at least four times during the speech. In one segment, in which he struggled to utter the words "...consciously stand on the overall interests of the party and the country..." he coughed twice within one minute.
Xi Jinping coughing. (CCTV 13 screenshot)
Each time Xi coughed during the live feed from state broadcaster CCTV, the camera crew would quickly cut to the audience. However, his incessant cough and gulping of water were still highly audible and followed by long, awkward pauses.
Although the live feed was originally posted on YouTube, it was taken offline shortly after the speech ended. The video in its entirety can still be seen on the official CCTV Weibo account.
Meanwhile, as Lam had on Oct. 9 attended a Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra concert where one of the musicians later tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), there were concerns that she may have been exposed. This may explain why a maskless Lam was placed at the end of the table furthest from Xi during his speech and a noticeably larger distance from the next closest person, National Development and Reform Commission Chair He Lifeng (何立峰), than other guests.
Xi preparing to drink more water to alleviate his cough. (CCTV 13 screenshot)
During Xi's tour of Guangdong Province earlier this week, he reportedly did not interact as closely with people on the streets as he normally does, according to Apple Daily. He also appeared more serious and subdued when visiting the People's Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps (PLANMC) base in Chaozhou on Tuesday (Oct. 13), when he was quoted as telling the marines to "prepare for war."
Xi's coughing and apparent malaise led netizens to speculate that he had contracted the coronavirus:
"The spell turned against the sorcerer."
"Could it be the CCP virus infected its own leader?"
"COVID19 is good for xi the yellow bear."
"Poetic Justice / Karma."
"King of COVID spreaders."
"Affected by his own invention the CCP's COVID-19?"
"What goes around comes around."
"I hope Winnie the Pooh has COVID."
中国国家主席习近平上午在深圳经济特区建立40周年纪念大会上发表讲话时，因连番咳嗽而引起关注。 pic.twitter.com/kfLbIpP0XT— BBC News 中文 (@bbcchinese) October 14, 2020