Some of China’s top leaders have headed to the seaside town of Beidaihe near here for crucial discussions on finalising the next generation of leaders, ahead of the once-in-a-decade transition in October.

While officials and state media have kept silent on the secretive deliberations, an aide of a representative of the Communist Party’s powerful 370-strong Central Committee confirmed to The Hindu the presence of several of the committee’s members in Beidaihe this weekend for discussions.

In recent days, the seaside town has been under a tight security clampdown. Several Beijing residents who attempted to travel to the town, a popular weekend getaway, were detained by police and sent back on Friday.

One resident told The Hindu in a telephone interview that his identification cards were confiscated by police for 10 hours after he was stopped at a checkpoint near the Beidaihe exit off the expressway from Beijing. He was notified that Beidaihe was off-limits and told to return to Beijing along with his two companions.

It was, however, unclear whether this weekend’s deliberations were attended by all of China’s top leaders. The talks are unlikely to be the last as leaders, present and past, grapple over the selection of their successors before the 18th Party Congress, which is scheduled to be held in October or November.

The Beidaihe meetings are a once-in-five-years ritual and are shrouded in secrecy. The seaside resort, near Qinhuangdao, has a history of serving as a quiet retreat for the CPC’s top leaders. Frequented by Mao Zedong — an avid swimmer — the resort was subsequently declared the site of annual meetings by the former leader, Deng Xiaoping. The last major conclave here was held five years ago, before the previous party congress.

Top of the agenda for the discussions is finalising the next Politburo Standing Committee — the body that effectively runs China. Only two of the current nine members will hold on to their posts following the transition: Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is set to succeed President and Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang who is likely to assume Premier Wen Jiabao’s position.

Proposals to reduce the size of the standing committee to seven, to make it a less unwieldy grouping, are thought to be under discussion.

Deciding the composition of the body is a trickier task, with past and present leaders from different interest-groups campaigning to appoint their representatives.

Likely candidates

The appearance of the former President, Jiang Zemin, in state media reports in recent days has been seen as a signal of his influence in the upcoming discussions. At least two leaders thought to be close to Mr. Jiang have been touted as likely candidates for the next Politburo Standing Committee: Wang Qishan, a Vice-Premier who is one of the senior-most officials in charge of economic affairs, and Zhang Dejiang, the party secretary in Chongqing, who was tasked with managing the political crisis following the purge of his predecessor Bo Xilai.

Other spots will likely be filled by at least two or three leaders close to Mr. Hu and associated with the Communist Youth League. Likely candidates are Li Yuanchao, head of the party’s Organisation Department, Liu Yunshan, a top official in charge of propaganda, and State Councillor Liu Yandong, who, if appointed, will be a rare woman presence on the all-powerful standing committee.

Another key issue for the discussions to grapple with is a consensus on the fate of the purged Mr. Bo, who was suspended from the 25-member Politburo in April for “serious disciplinary violations”.

Last week, authorities said his wife, Gu Kailai, who has been charged with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, an associate of the Bo family, will stand trial in Hefei, in southern Anhui province, which may take place as early as next week. The maximum punishment that Ms. Gu could face is the death penalty. Settling Ms. Gu’s case has prompted suggestions that an announcement on Mr. Bo, who could face expulsion from the party and a lengthy jail-term, is expected in coming weeks.

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