After a mysterious absences and unanswered questions about his health, we now know that Chinese vice president Xi Jinping is at least feeling well enough to get involved in his country's ongoing dispute with Japan. Xi emerged alive and well from a weeks-long "sabbatical" to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on his tour of the Far East. During the meeting, Xi called the Japanese purchase of a small group of islands in the East China Sea "a farce" and that its rival should "rein in its behavior."
China and Japan have both claimed the islands as their territory for years, but the recent sale of the chain (which is called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by the Japanese) has reignited the debate and sparked protests in both countries. Several Japanese businesses have suspended operations or shut down factories in China after protesters attacked them over the last several days, and a flotilla of 1,000 Chinese fishing vessels has descended on the islands.
Meanwhile, China's top military leader is telling his troops to "prepare for combat." The tensions weren't helped by the fact that Tuesday marked the day that Japan began its occupation of China in 1931.
Despite Panetta's relative silence on the Japan fight, the U.S. was nearly drawn into the matter when a small batch of protesters in Beijing swarmed the car of Ambassador Gary Locke earlier today. They had been demonstrating outside the nearby Japanese embassy, but went after Locke's car before being pushed back by police.
Lost in all the hubbub is that no explanation was ever given for why Xi went more than two weeks without being seen in public. The vice president has been expected to succeed as president when the Communist Party holds its next congress next month, but the party has still not announced a date for the meeting. Panetta told reporters after his meeting that Xi looked "very healthy and very engaged," suggesting that maybe it was just a back injury that sidelined him, has had been reported. But as usual, the government's refusal to give answers only creates more questions.