China's Internet censors on Monday blocked searches about vice-president and presumed leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping and the ruling Chinese Communist Party's discipline czar He Guoqiang following rumors that they had been injured in separate car accidents.
Keyword searches for "Xi Jinping" and "He Guoqiang" resulted in the following message on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service on Monday: "According to the relevant laws and regulations, we were unable to show the search results for Xi Jinping/He Guoqiang."
The U.S.-based Chinese news website Boxun reported over the weekend that Xi and He were being treated at Beijing's 301 Military Hospital after being injured in two separate road accidents on the evening of Sept. 4, sparking media speculation and rumors that the two were the targets of assassination attempts by allies of ousted Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai and national security chief Zhou Yongkang.
Xi, 59, is widely tipped to take over from President Hu Jintao as Party chief at a crucial leadership transition at the forthcoming 18th Party Congress, expected in October.
In an article that was removed within hours of being posted, Boxun reported that Xi's car was sandwiched by off-road vehicles, leaving him in hospital with a spinal injury.
It said He Guoqiang, the secretary of the Commission for Discipline Inspection, was also involved in a separate road accident on the same night, when a truck traveling at high speed hit his car from behind, causing it to turn over.
The website, whose reports are not always validated, said He was in critical condition, while Xi sustained minor injuries.
Rumors of attacks
However, the report sparked a wave of rumors that military officers and supporters of Bo and Zhou may have carried out attacks on the two officials.
In Hong Kong, the Apple Daily newspaper reported that Xi had canceled a scheduled meeting with visiting Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Beijing on Monday.
Such reports about the whereabouts and plans of China's heavily-guarded top officials are notoriously hard to confirm, and RFA was unable to do so.
Boxun reported that two military officers have since been detained for questioning.
The Chinese government has so far not commented on either Xi or He's state of health or whereabouts, although neither man has been seen in public since Tuesday.
Scott Kennedy, director of Indiana University’s Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business in Beijing, told the Washington Post that China has a longstanding tradition of not commenting on problems faced by its leaders.
"There is a longstanding practice of not reporting on illnesses or troubles within the elites," Kennedy told the paper. "The sense is that giving out such information would only fuel further speculation."
However, the foreign ministry has said that the scheduled photo session with Xi and Thorning-Schmidt was never intended to take place.
"As I said last week, China’s state councilors will meet the Danish prime minister," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular news briefing. Asked about Xi's reported injury, Hong said: "We have told everybody everything," and declined to comment further.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.