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Normally a Chinese official's expression of condolence about a party veteran's death wouldn't be news by itself, but when that official is missing Vice President Xi Jinping and the condolence is the first anybody's heard from him in two weeks, it is. Xi's name on an expression of condolence from China's top leaders, posted on the Communist Party website on Wednesday, was the first time he's been mentioned in any official context since he was last seen on Sept. 1. But it tells virtually nothing, and there was no personal note, audio, or new photograph to accompany the statement. Per The Telegraph's Malcolm Moore:

“Comrades Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, Li Yuanchao, Zhu Rongji and Li Zhaozhuo, through various means, expressed their condolences at the death of Comrade Huang Rong and their deep sympathies to his relatives,” said the short statement.

All the news really tells us is that at least according to Chinese Communist Party officials Xi is alive and well enough to have statements attributed to him. But in the absence of any other official word on the missing vice president, who is expected to take over China's leadership at a Communist Party congress as soon as next month, it's the only straw journalists have to grasp at as they try to determine what happened to the missing official. Reuters reported Thursday that "China experts doubt Xi is suffering more than a minor ailment - a version supported by sources close to the leadership." Insiders had told the agency he injured his back while swimming. Xi's absence has little real-world effect right now, but if it continues much longer "it could disrupt plans for the party congress," Moore noted. And it's unclear who might replace Xi as the presumptive next president of China.

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