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Speculation abounds over Chinese president-in-waiting's low profile

Xi Jinping, next in line to become China's president, has not been seen publicly for more than a week. 

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As if to demonstrate the range and randomness of the speculation, Boxun later replaced the report with another saying Xi was merely preoccupied with preparations to take over as head of the ruling party.

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This year, China has seen an unusual amount of political intrigue, with the spectacular downfall of Politburo member Bo exposing divisions within the leadership and prompting rumors of nefarious activity ranging from the wiretapping of top leaders to an attempted coup.

The sudden transfer of a key secretary to President Hu Jintao earlier this month also spawned conjecture about a Ferrari crash involving the aide's son and an ensuing attempted cover-up.

Rumors about Xi were churned further by Russian President Vladimir Putin's cryptic remark over the weekend that the start of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders' meeting in Vladivostok had been delayed because Hu needed to attend to an important but unspecified domestic issue.

The tension and uncertainty are heightened by the timing ahead of a generational shift to a new leadership that is to be headed by Xi. Still, in keeping with the China government's proclivity for secrecy, the logistics of the transition remain unknown.

Xi is expected to first assume Hu's mantle as Communist leader at a party congress held once every five years. Yet the dates for the meeting, expected in the second half of October, have yet to be announced, prompting talk that at least some of the seats on the nine-member Standing Committee remain up for grabs.

Recent economic and diplomatic challenges have added to the sense of insecurity.

While China avoided the worst of the global economic slowdown, export growth and domestic demand have both fallen sharply in recent months, prompting forecasters to slash their estimates for economic growth needed to create jobs and fill government coffers.

Meanwhile, Beijing has been deeply unnerved by Washington's new emphasis on military and political ties to China's neighbors in the western Pacific and finds itself enmeshed again in a nagging dispute with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Wang Xiangwei, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post and a longtime state media insider, wrote Monday in his newspaper that Chinese leaders' meetings are planned well in advance and cancellations are extremely rare.

"Barring Xi himself offering a very unlikely explanation today about his canceled meetings last week, the outside world may never know the exact reason, and the rumors are unlikely to fade away," Wang wrote.

Though absent in person, Xi did pop up Monday on the front page of the party academy's official newspaper Study Times alongside a transcript of the speech he delivered nine days earlier.

In the text, he enjoins newly enrolled cadres to use their time on the leafy campus in the northern Beijing suburbs to think critically about major national issues and not spend it "expanding personal contacts and inviting guests to dinner."

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