SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping will attend a meeting with Southeast Asian nations later this week, the Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday, signaling his return to diplomatic duties after skipping a series of events with foreign dignitaries.
Vice President Xi had been out of the public eye for almost two weeks, missing meetings with foreign leaders that included U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, prompting rumors of ill health or worse.
Xi reappeared on Saturday at a Beijing university.
He will now be heading to the southern region of Guangxi to attend a trade fair for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which opens on Friday, the Foreign Ministry said.
"Vice President Xi Jinping and ASEAN leaders will attend the opening ceremony and other important activities," the ministry said in a brief statement on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
Other leaders in attendance will include Myanmar President Thein Sein, Lao Prime Minister Thongsin Thammavong and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, it said.
China's relationships with some ASEAN members, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, have been strained lately due to rising tensions over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Chinese government officials have repeatedly refused to say what had happened to Xi, fuelling speculation that has included him supposedly suffering a heart attack, a stroke, emergency cancer surgery and even an attempted assassination.
Sources told Reuters Xi hurt his back while swimming earlier this month and that he had been obeying doctors' orders to get bed rest and undergo physiotherapy. The health of state leaders is typically considered a state secret in China.
Beijing has yet to announce formally a date for the party's five-yearly congress, at which Xi is tipped to replace Hu Jintao as party chief, although it is still expected to be held in mid- or late October at the earliest.
In March next year, he is expected formally to take over the reins of the world's second-largest economy.
(Reporting by Pete Sweeney; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Paul Tait)