Chinese leader-in-waiting reappears

Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping has reappeared in public following a two-week absence that had sparked rumours about his health and raised questions about the stability of the country's succession process.

State media said Xi toured exhibits at China Agricultural University in Beijing commemorating National Science Popularisation Day, but offered no explanation as to why he had dropped from sight.

Photos posted to the government's official website showed Xi walking in the sunshine dressed casually in an open-necked shirt and black jacket. Another photo showed him smiling as he looked at potted plants, showing no sign of disability or ill health.

A three-line report from the official Xinhua News Agency did not address why Xi had not been seen publicly since September 1, when he made a speech at the ruling Communist Party's official training academy.

Since then, he has cancelled meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries including US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The Chinese government has yet to explain Xi's public absence.

Speculation sparked by Xi's absence highlights the intense scrutiny China's succession process is under, tempered with uneasiness about the country's highly opaque political system that often seems at odds with its rising global importance.

"The leadership needs to realise how the world perceives this. They may have their own reasons for keeping secret, but it is not beneficial to China's global status and position as a world power," said David Zweig, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Xi is due to take over as head of the Communist Party at a leadership congress later this year, the exact dates for which have yet to be announced. That's the first step in a generational leadership transition that will see him assume the presidency next spring, embarking on what is expected to be a decade at the helm of the world's most populous nation and second-largest economy.

Early rumours about his public absence said the 59-year-old Xi had thrown his back out swimming or pulled a muscle playing football. As the days passed and Xi was still not seen, speculation escalated to more serious conditions, including a heart attack, stroke and emergency surgery.