One of the more amusing elitist games in the United States is deciphering the Mandarin language word for “crisis.” The late president Richard Nixon declared it was a combination of danger and opportunity. A Hollywood scriptwriter – via actor Peter Weller – opined that crisis and opportunity were in fact the same word in the language of most of mainland China. However, these days, one can’t help wondering if Zhongnanhai would translate “crisis” and “present” into the same word.

As the Chinese Communist Party prepares for its quinquennial Party Congress, the fellow slated to become the new face of the regime – Xin Jinping – has disappeared. No one has seen him for weeks, and the cadres are completely uninterested in telling anyone else where he is (National Post, Cdn,). Meanwhile, the Bo Xilai scandal (which includes the murder of a foreign investor from Great Britain) continues to dominate the news (CNN).

Even the latest attempt to distract the public – allowing a slew of protests over the Senkaku islands dispute with Japan – went sideways when a Communist-approved mob (for the uninitiated: when any protests reach the streets without the police swooping down on them, it’s Communist-approved) apparently confused American Ambassador Gary Locke with a Japanese official and attacked his car (CNN, although the conclusion is mine). The regime took pains to apologize to the United States, while refusing to condemn far worse violence on Japanese holdings on the mainland (Japan Daily Press). The North Korean colony has gotten in on the act, too, having come to the decision that feeding its own people is less important that producing a music video antagonizing the odds-on favorite to be elected president of South Korea in December (BBC).

In order to understand just how revealing of the CCP’s weakness this fiasco is, we need to remember just what is supposed to happen next month. Contrary to popular belief, the fellow running the regime when the Congress is over will likely be the same fellow running it now: Hu Jintao. No Communist regime is a carbon copy of the others, and the fall of the Soviet model had every one else scramble to avoid its fate. The CCP came upon two distinguishing characteristics. The first (by design) was to fuse Marxist-Leninist economic theory with corporatist practice to transform the state from factory manager to the equivalent of an American 19th Century trust. The second (by improvisation in reaction to the Tiananmen Spring) was a shift in ultimate power from the General Secretary of the Politburo to the Chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission. While the rest of the world introduced itself to Hu Jintao when he took the General Secretary job in 2002, Jiang Zemin still ran the place as CMC Chair until 2004. Xi is (or was) to enter the same role as the face, but not the head, of the regime.

So, in truth, Xi’s illness/problem/crime/insert-other-reason-for-disappearance-here means nothing. However, the CCP has so much invested in the lie that Xi really was about to become the new leader that its silence on the matter has become unnerving to just about everyone – to the point of undermining the twin pillars of the regime’s legitimacy: it’s capacity for global leadership (NP), and even worse, it’s supposed economic prowess (Anne Applebaum, NP).

Meanwhile, the rest of the world brings little solace to the regime. Despite its desperate economic straits, the European Union refuses to lift its arms embargo for the CCP. Japan and South Korea appear ready to elect anti-Communists to their top political positions. Finally, in America, the most anti-CCP president since LBJ is in the fight of its political life with a challenger who is even more anti-Communist. All of this is occurring as the Chinese people continue to age far faster than is sustainable and grow more restive.

However the cadres may translate “crisis,” it’s all but certain they’re in the middle of one.