Where’s ‘Waldo’? The Internet and the Mysterious Case of the Missing Vice President of China

Posted on | september 14, 2012 | No Comments

Where’s Waldo (Xi Jingping)

Vice President Xi Jingping, the man presumed to be China’s next president, is missing. He has not been seen since the first of September when he addressed the Central Party School in Beijing. Planned meetings with Hillary Clinton and the prime ministers of Singapore and Denmark have been canceled. The absence has aroused such interest probably because it comes so close before the 18th Party Congress at which it is presumed that President Hu will hand the role over to Mr. Xi.

Naturally, rumors and conspiracy theories abound.  These seem primarily focused on the possibility of a back injury, possibly sustained while swimming or playing soccer, or perhaps a mild heart attack. Wilder theories include assassination attempts, car accidents or imprisonment, possibly at the hands of supporters of fallen leader, Bo Xilai. Russian President Vladimir Putin further stirred the pot by stating that a Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting would be delayed because President Hu needed to attend to an important but unspecified domestic issue.

On one hand, it is surprising that China’s top leadership still has not learned the value of transparency. Kellee Tsai, a political scientist at John Hopkins University, was quoted as saying that the silence was “even more reckless than controlling the message.” Over time, if China’s top leaders did open up, there might be less speculation and their announcements might come to be greeted with less suspicion. Yet, at the same time, if US President Obama were suddenly to vanish and cancel several high-level meetings, would the situation look all that different? Naturally, the White House would make some kind of announcement. But speculation would likely arise anyway, just as the announcement that Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was moved inside because of the weather sparked theories that the real reason for the move was the fear that they could not fill the larger stadium.
Whether the truth is a pulled muscle or something more sinister, it seems unlikely that any announcement or appearance could completely staunch the chatter. Perhaps the real lesson for Chinese leaders then, is that they need to learn to accept some healthy speculation and even wild conspiracy theories with good nature. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the decision seems to have gone the other way, with censors apparently doing their best to restrict internet chatter about Mr. Xi’s absence.  Attempts to search for Mr. Xi on Chinese micro-blogs have been blocked and while a search for Mr. Xi on Google News produces a multitude of articles about his disappearance, the Chinese search engine Baidu turns up stories about the speech at the Central Party School. While there really is not much to say about Vice President Xi’s absence, China’s censors seem determined not to let people say it.

AUTHOR: Dr. Jason Abbott
URL: http://profjabbott.blogspot.com
E-MAIL: jason.abbott [at] louisville.edu


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