Why Is Xi Jinping “Invisible”?

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not been publicly seen since his return from the SCO summit to Beijing. He has been “invisible” for over a week, skipping a high-level military meeting and the annual United Nations General Assembly. With China only weeks away from its 20th National Congress, during which Xi is set to pursue an unprecedented third term, his absence has gone on long enough to attract attention from keen political watchers, with some even speculating that he has been placed under house arrest.

Xi, who returned to China’s capital on September 16 after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, didn’t appear at the military reform meeting but relayed instructions that the armed forces should focus on preparing for war. Similarly missing was Wei Fenghe, Xi’s handpicked Chinese military general currently serving as the country’s Defence Minister.

According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) national defence and military reform seminar was held in Beijing on September 21. Xu Qiliang and Zhang Youxia, two Vice-Chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC), delivered speeches at the meeting, and members of the Central Military Commission Li Zuocheng, Miao Hua, and Zhang Shengmin attended the meeting.

It can be seen from CCTV‘s news footage of the day that Li Qiaoming, the former commander of the Northern Theater Command who was dismissed earlier, attended the meeting, and sat in the front next to Liu Zhenli, Commander of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Ground Force. Li disappeared from public attention after Wang Qiang replaced him as Commander, and once, there were rumours that Li Qiaoming was involved in a “mutiny”.

 According to the People’s Daily, the CCP media, Xi Jinping “went straight to the airport to return to China” after the Shanghai Cooperation Summit returned to Beijing at midnight on the 16th. During this period, a lot of speculative news about Xi was spread on Twitter and even on WeChat in mainland China. One of the most popular news on Twitter was that Hu and Wen successfully persuaded Song Ping, the former standing committee member, to take control of the Central Guard Bureau. Xi returned to Beijing on the evening of the 16th, was controlled at the airport, and was placed under house arrest in Zhongnanhai’s home. There was speculation that he was also not allowed to participate in the most crucial reform meeting of the Military Commission.

However, some netizens on Twitter believe that the reason for Xi Jinping’s invisibility and absence from the meeting may be that he needs to be isolated for a period in accordance with the epidemic prevention and control regulations after visiting abroad.

Although no major Chinese media outlets or officials have come out to refute the rumours, the reach of the theory, however unsubstantiated, reflects a certain degree of anger inside the country, some analysts say. While Xi has all but secured his third term, many people haven’t reconciled with his continued stay in power, Wang said.