Xi’s coughing, coupled with the unusual harried departure, triggered speculation among overseas Chinese-language media about his health condition and whether he could have had COVID-19.
Xi visited Guangdong Province from Oct. 12 to Oct. 14.
On official trips, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) senior leaders normally do not announce their itineraries in advance.
But it is typical for senior leaders to visit local officials and receive a report from them in person on the last day of the trip.
Chinese state-run media initially reported about Xi’s activities as they occurred.
Citing insiders, Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily reported that Xi planned to visit nearby Guangzhou city after giving the Shenzhen speech, in order to visit the offices and factories of major tech companies.
But after Xi’s speech on Wednesday morning, state media kept silent. The following day, media reports reviewed Xi’s Guangdong trip. Since media did not report on Xi listening to local officials’ report, it suggested that Xi had already gone back to Beijing.
During Xi’s previous three visits to Guangdong since becoming Party leader, he had met with local officials to receive their report on the last day of his trip.
U.S.-based China affairs commentator Yang Wei pointed out that such meetings with local officials are politically important, because they are usually a chance for officials to express their loyalty to Xi in person.
“Not only officials from Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but Party bosses and governors from nearby provinces would also likely join the meeting, such as Fujian, Guangxi, and Jiangxi provinces,” Yang said.
The Party will hold its Fifth Plenary Session on Oct. 26, which is a key conference to discuss the Party leader successor, the next five-year plan, as well as officials’ promotions.
Due to the timing, Xi likely would have wanted to solidify his underlings’ loyalty with such a meeting. So, it is highly unusual that Xi did not hold such a meeting in his latest Guangdong trip.
Many media outlets and Chinese internet personalities based outside China began speculating whether the early departure had to do with Xi’s health condition.
Others speculated that Xi could have been concerned about contracting COVID-19 due to a local outbreak. In Guangzhou, the Huadu district health commission announced on Oct. 16 that one of its residents was infected with the disease on Oct. 15.
The wild speculation appears to have prompted a response from Beijing.
Also on Oct. 16, state media reported that Xi hosted a meeting in Beijing with the Politburo, a body of the Party’s 25 most powerful officials.
According to Xinhua, the Politburo discussed a Chengdu-Chongqing dual-city development plan and quantum technology.
Commentator Yang wrote in a commentary that given the lack of the meeting’s political importance, the event was likely to show the public that he has no health problems.
“That way, it will appear that his Guangdong trip was cut short to attend a more important meeting in Beijing. However, [based on the media report,] the meeting didn’t discuss key issues or make important decisions,” Yang wrote.