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China: Xi Jinping returns to the public eye

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met a "healthy" looking Vice President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

 xi jinping meets panettaEnlarge
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) shakes hands with China's Vice President Xi Jinping before meeting at the Great Hall of the People on Sept. 19, 2012 in Beijing, China. (Larry Downing/Getty Images)

China's next presumptive leader, Vice President Xi Jinping, met with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Beijing on Wednesday, in what was his first appearance with a high-level dignitary since his bizarre two-week absence from the public eye.

The two met for over an hour and discussed military relations, according to the Associated Press. The US recently agreed to install a missile-defense radar system in Japan, which China criticized.

When asked about Xi's health, Panetta told reporters, "Frankly my impression was that he was very healthy and very engaged." 

While mum was the word from China on Xi's unexplained disappearance, speculation had been rampant during the weeks the leader was absent from the public eye. Some said the vice president had suffered a stroke or heart attack; others thought his absence signaled internal strife within China's leadership.

But on Tuesday the Chinese government confirmed what many thought was the most reasonable suspicion — Xi hurt his back.

Tung Chee-hwa, President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, told CNN Xi had injured his back while swimming.

Tung explained why a world leader in China would refrain from public appearances.

"In China the health of senior leaders is not a public issue," he said. "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."

After the meeting Xi said he hoped Panetta's visit "would be a good success," according to the BBC

Xi, it seems, is back on the job.