During his visit to China next week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to address students at the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) secretive Party School in the suburbs of western Beijing — an elite institution that trains the country’s future leaders.

Dr. Singh’s visit to the Party School is being framed by Chinese officials as underlining the importance they are attaching to the visit. Only few visiting foreign dignitaries, they say, have addressed the 80-year-old institution, which has trained a number of leaders and teaches more than one thousand cadres.

Before last year, the school hosted only very few top foreign dignitaries. In an attempt to open up, the school played host to three serving Prime Ministers last year — Mario Monti of Italy, Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand and Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, according to the official China Daily newspaper.

Dr. Singh will arrive in Beijing on October 22, and meet top leaders on October 23. The event at the school will allow him to address the question of the future of India-China relations in an atmosphere that will be far less constrictive than his other engagements, officials say.

Foreign leaders had often used their Party School messages to go beyond diplomatic language and send frank messages to the leadership.

For instance, Singapore’s Prime Minister in his speech — which received much attention among Chinese elites — called for a reality check about China’s position in the world, telling his audience of Party officials and up-and-coming cadres that “the U.S. would remain the dominant superpower for the foreseeable future”.

“All eight Nobel Prize winners in science who are of Chinese descent either were or subsequently became American citizens,” he said. “We should never under-estimate the US’ capacity to reinvigorate and reinvent itself.”

The former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was even more direct during a 2005 visit, emphasising the need for political openness and warning that isolating people and denying them information could lead to “dramatic” consequences.

Beijing had initially asked Mr. Rumsfeld to address a gathering at Peking University, where many visiting foreign leaders usually make public speeches. But Mr. Rumsfeld had insisted on speaking at the Party School, according to Chinese State media reports.

“So many foreign leaders want to visit our school now. I’m afraid we have to give priority to high-ranking officials and top scholars because of the busy schedule,” said Gong Li, director of the school’s Institute of International Strategic Studies, told the China Daily last year.

Since its establishment in 1933, the school has trained 60,000 officials. The school is usually headed by a top member of the Politburo. The current President is Liu Yunshan, the fifth-ranked leader of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee who heads propaganda.

His predecessor as President was Xi Jinping, the current CPC General Secretary and President of China. Earlier Presidents of the Party School include Mao Zedong and Hu Jintao, the former leader. State media reports say the highest levels of the Party decide — and approve — visits from foreign leaders.

Reflecting the school’s unique status, a recent media report recounted a popular joke circulating in the school, which asks why the Party School is home to China’s safest drivers: “Why? Because who knows which passer-by might become the future General Secretary of the CPC.”

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