China VP's absence raises succession questions

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BEIJING — As Xi Jinping’s absence carried into an 11th day today, China’s Communist Party officials were saying nothing about why the country’s next leader has not been seen in public since Sept. 1.

Since that date, Xi, China’s vice president, has missed planned meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other foreign dignitaries.

Speculation about the causes of his absence centers on some sort of health crisis. But far-fetched rumors have imagined him the victim of an assassination attempt or a political feud with outgoing President Hu Jintao over the pace of political reform.

If Xi’s absence were to linger, it might disrupt plans for the upcoming party congress, where Xi is to succeed Hu as party leader. The dates for the congress, held once every five years, were expected to be announced following a meeting of the 25-member Politburo this month, but it may have to be delayed if Xi remains out of action.

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