China's next leader goes missing

The mysterious absence of China's presumptive leader, Xi Jinping, from a series of key foreign meetings is a worrying development given China's stressed economic conditions.

With the mining investment boom coming to a screaming halt and now coal mines being closed in Queensland Australians are examining Chinese economic data like never before.

But a far more profound long-term China event is taking place – the change in leadership in China.

China's leader in waiting is Xi Jinping and the expectation is that he will take the reins at the 18th Party Congress, which is due to be held next month. But no announcement of the date has been made. The last congress was also held in October, but its dates were made public in August.

Now suddenly Xi Jinping appears to have gone missing. The New York Times has decided to run the story, which will add great fuel to speculation unless it is squashed by the current leadership.

Several days ago Xi cancelled a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and this was initially seen as a snub in response to America's plans for the Asia Pacific.

But Xi also cancelled a meeting the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong. On Monday, he did not show up at a meeting with the Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

The New York Times reports that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that the meeting between Xi and the Danish prime minister had ever been scheduled.

However last week, the ministry had invited the foreign press for a photo opportunity with the two leaders.

According to The New York Times one well-connected political analyst in Beijing said he was told that Xi, 59, had suffered a mild heart attack.

Xi Jinping was anointed as the successor to current General Secretary and President Hu Jintao prior to Hu coming to power in 2002-03. The steps that lead to Xi being promoted to the pole position were taken not by President Hu but the previous Chinese leadership. The way Xi was promoted by the previous leadership has created some tensions in China.

Meanwhile for Australia the cancellation of the Clinton appointment has an extra dimension.

Clinton's elongated Pacific trip prior to the meeting with Xi increased the apprehension in China about the US Pacific ambitions.

This is a dispute that goes to the heart if Australia’s future. We depend on the US for defence and China for trade.

Meanwhile, if Xi Jinping does not suddenly appear there is clearly a problem.

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