Washington: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to the country`s leadership, has not been seen in public since Sep 1, giving rise to rampant speculation about his possible whereabouts, media reports said.
Xi went missing at a sensitive moment, as the 18th Congress of the Communist Party, expected to elevate him to the top position of general secretary, is due to be held within weeks, though, curiously, no date has been announced, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Xi cancelled meetings with four foreign leaders in a week, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Danish prime minister, with no explanation.
Reports said the 59-year-old Xi merely strained his back, or had a mild heart attack.
According to Britain`s The Independent daily, when asked to explain why Xi has not been seen in public, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "I hope you will raise more serious questions."
Xi also failed to attend an internal meeting of China`s Central Military Commission.
Meanwhile, no official reason for Xi`s absence has been offered by the Chinese government. As a result, the information vacuum has been filled with rampant speculation about his possible whereabouts, The Independent said.
China`s foreign ministry denied that Xi`s meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt had ever been scheduled in the first place.
"We have told everybody everything," the spokesman said.
The daily said as China`s media is controlled by the state, it is not permitted to print speculation about leadership matters.
A system of online censorship controls nicknamed "The Great Firewall of China" attempts to restrict online conversation by preventing users from searching for sensitive terms.
Searches for "Xi Jinping" were blocked on popular microblogging website Weibo, the report said.
Some have spread the word that he has been laid low by an injury he sustained while playing football.
Staff at Beijing`s 301 Military Hospital refuted claims that Xi was receiving treatment there.
In July 2011, speculation that China`s retired leader Jiang Zemin had died forced state-run Xinhua news agency to issue a statement insisting he was alive.
When Lin Biao, Mao Zedong`s hand-picked heir apparent, disappeared in 1971, many raised questions about reports that he had died in a mysterious plane crash.