China's Vice President Xi Jinping
China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping could make a public appearance as early as Saturday as he recovers from a bad back, sources said, dispelling rumours about his health after he dropped out of sight at the start of this month.
Xi has been out of the public eye for almost two weeks and has skipped meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Chinese government officials have repeatedly refused to say what happened to him, fuelling speculation that has included Xi suffering a heart attack, a stroke, emergency cancer surgery and even an attempted assassination, reports Reuters.
But three sources close to the Chinese leadership, who are familiar with internal accounts of Xi's condition, said the 59-year-old has been nursing a back injury the entire time, obeying doctors' orders to get more bed rest and undergo physiotherapy, while spending time preparing for the leadership transition later this year.
"He is fine now. He went for physiotherapy for three days," one source said. "He should make a public appearance soon."
Xi has been undergoing physiotherapy sessions within Beijing's walled and tightly guarded Zhongnanhai leadership compound, said a second source close to senior party officials.
"It wasn't serious but very painful and he was ordered to have bed rest," the second source said.
A third source said Xi could make a public appearance as soon as Saturday, but no other details were immediately available.
The sources all spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing the health of leaders, which has long been considered a state secret in China.
Xi last appeared in public on September 1. He pulled a back muscle while swimming shortly before Clinton arrived on an official visit on September 4, the sources said, forcing him to scrap a meeting with her the next day and also with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The ruling Communist Party's refusal to comment on his disappearance from public view and absence from scheduled events is in keeping with its traditional silence on the question of the health of top leaders, but it has worried or mystified most China watchers.
On Wednesday, state media carried comments attributed to Xi for the first time since he dropped out of sight, but there was no public sighting of him or any new photograph.
There has been no direct official comment addressing the rumours and the refusal to quell the speculation is widely seen as out of step with the country's global economic and military significance and has been likened to the kind of old-style communist secrecy practiced during the Cold War.
Beijing has yet to formally announce a date for the party's five-yearly congress at which Xi is tipped to replace Hu Jintao as party chief, though it is still expected to be held in mid or late October at the earliest. In March next year, he is to formally take up the reins of the world's second-largest economy.
Xi has been working overtime during his recovery to prevent any delay in the congress opening, the second of the three sources said.