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State media: Presumptive Chinese leader appears for first time in 2 weeks

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 17, 2012 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping talk during their meeting in Beijing on August 30, 2012.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping talk during their meeting in Beijing on August 30, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Xinhua shows Vice President Xi Jinping appearing at a Beijing university
  • Media has not reported him being out in public since September 1
  • Xi is seen as a contender to become China's next leader
  • His public absence has fueled speculation

(CNN) -- Two weeks since his last public appearance, presumptive Chinese leader Xi Jinping was pictured attending an event Saturday in Beijing, state media reported.

The state-run Xinhua news agency, on both its English- and Chinese-language websites, published a one-line story stating that Xi had arrived Saturday morning at China Agricultural University for activities tied to the nation's annual National Science Popularization Day.

An accompanying photo showed him wearing a coat and surrounded by other men as he strolled on the grounds of the Beijing university.

Absence fuels intrigue before power transition

The 59-year-old vice president had not been seen in public since September 1, when he was reported to have given a speech to the Central Party School in Beijing. Images published by major news websites after the date showed Xi smartly dressed in a dark suit and purple tie.

Since then, the cancellation of a number of meetings with high-profile foreign dignitaries has created a storm of speculation as rumor and hearsay fill the void of official information.

For a number of days, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has declined to answer queries on Xi at the ministry's daily press briefings.

When Xi's meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was abruptly canceled September 5, American officials said their Chinese counterparts had blamed a "scheduling conflict."

No official reasons were given following the cancellation of other appointments, including a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The lack of comment has fueled unsubstantiated rumors, including wild plot lines ranging from a car crash, to an assassination attempt. Others say Xi has been sidelined by a suspected heart attack or stroke, neither of which have been denied or confirmed.

Xi has been mentioned as a possible successor to Chinese President Hu Jintao.

In a matter of weeks, more than 2,000 delegates are expected to meet in Beijing for the Communist Party's 18th National Congress.

During their event, China's political elite are expected to announce the results of months of political maneuvering, and the names of the five to seven new entrants to Politburo Standing Committee.

Why China needs a PR makeover

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