China official confirms Xi's absence due to "sport injury"
HONG KONG |
HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, suffered a back injury from sport, a senior Chinese official said, in the clearest explanation so far from a top party insider on the reasons for Xi's recent disappearance from public duty.
In rare on-the-record comments on Vice President Xi's health, former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa, now a vice-chairman of a largely ceremonial advisory body for China's parliament, said that Xi had injured his back "I believe from swimming".
"He hurt himself in sports and he's now recovered and he's now back at work," Tung told CNN in an interview broadcast in the United States late on Tuesday.
Tung has deep-rooted ties with China's top leaders and was a key adviser to Xi during his visit to the United States earlier this year.
Sources told Reuters that Xi hurt his back while swimming earlier this month and that he had been obeying doctors' orders to get bed rest and undergo physiotherapy. The health of state leaders is typically considered a state secret in China.
"In China the health of senior leaders is not a public issue. I suppose as time goes on, as China becomes more and more open and is also a part of the world, all these things will eventually change," said Tung.
Chinese government officials repeatedly refused to say what had happened to Xi, fuelling speculation that has included him supposedly suffering a heart attack, a stroke, emergency cancer surgery and even an attempted assassination.
Xi met U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday, his first talks with a foreign official since vanishing from the public eye nearly two weeks ago.
Beijing has yet to announce formally a date for the party's five-yearly congress, at which Xi is tipped to replace Hu Jintao as party chief, though it is expected to be mid- or late October at the earliest.
In March next year, Xi will likely formally to take over the reins of the world's second-largest economy.
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Nick Macfie)
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