Shortened Xi tour of China’s south triggers talk about ill health

Published (HKT): 2020.10.16 06:15

China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday returned to Beijing, cutting short a southern tour whose highlight was to mark the 40th anniversary of Shenzhen as a special economic zone.

The abrupt news emerged a day after Xi spoke noticeably slower during a keynote speech in Shenzhen and was seen coughing and drinking water. Television cameras cut away while the 73-year-old took sips of water at the morning event.

Later in the day, Xi took a bus to Lianhua Mountain and waved to people from his seat. Some Chinese internet users reported that his motorcade visited Vanke Yuncheng in Shenzhen, an urban design project, and was greeted by enthusiastic crowds. But other sources said that only Vice Premier Liu He took part in the trip as Xi was not feeling well.

Coinciding with the end of the trip, state media Xinhua summarized Xi’s tour in an article published around Thursday noon, saying that he “emphasized the need to push for reform and opening up with greater vigor, and to be at the forefront of the new journey to build a modern socialist nation.”

A source confirmed to Apple Daily that Xi returned to the Chinese capital on Thursday. A member of his travel entourage, the head of the Communist Party’s publicity department Huang Kunming, was also spotted at the opening ceremony of an exhibition in Wuhan on the same day.

Prior to the trip, reports had suggested the itinerary would run for a week and that the Chinese president would visit Chaozhou, Shantou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhuhai. As it turned out, Xi did not go to the last two cities.

China expert Willy Lam told Apple Daily that Xi’s previous visits to the south of China usually lasted five to six days, but the trip this time was only three days long.

The change might be related to the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party, due to start on Oct. 26, Lam said. Xi might need to prepare for the plenary session, which would be an important occasion for him to consolidate his power and prepare for the eventual move to extend his term in 2022, he added.

Xi’s latest southern trip emphasized Shenzhen’s importance to the development of the Greater Bay Area and placed the city in a position to replace Hong Kong, according to Lam.

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