China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping made his first public appearance today after two weeks of a much-talked-about absence, putting to rest for the time being rumours about the Vice President's illness.
In a carefully choreographed move, Xi, 59 attended the most innocuous function to mark the National Science Popularisation Day at the Beijing-based China Agricultural University amid glare of print and television media which maintained a steadied silence when rumours of Xi's illness dominated world headlines.
Xi has been officially projected as successor to President Hu Jintao and expected to take over early next year.
A section of the foreign media was tipped off about his visit as he made an appearance at the university.
While state-run Xinhua news agency, which flashed the news of his appearance released pictures of him appearing at the university, official CCTV showed a lengthy footage of him interacting with staff and students at its most watched 7 PM news. Dressed in casual black jacket, Xi, who was officially stated to have suffered a back injury while swimming, walked around with ease but looked weak as he delivered an impromptu speech calling for strengthening public food and health knowledge toward food safety issues.
Few foreign reporters who were allowed kept at a distance.
Xi was not seen in public since September 1. Speculation about his illness gained ground after he failed to keep up with the scheduled meetings with visiting dignitaries like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt among others.
While officials informally said he suffered a back injury while swimming, foreign media reports speculated that he suffered a hearth attack or cancer to liver problem. One report even said he sustained multiple injuries in a car accident along another CPC leader.
Xi has become the most important in Chinese politics in recent months as he is set to succeed Hu both as President and General Secretary of the Party at the 18th Party Congress set to take place in the next few weeks.
He is set to take over power from Hu early next year.