Despatch from Beidaihe | International

When China’s leaders and ‘elders’ meet

 People enjoy themselves at a scenic spot in Beidaihe./ File

People enjoy themselves at a scenic spot in Beidaihe./ File

Tucked away 300 km east of Beijing, Beidaihe is a small coastal enclave on the Bohai Sea. Tourists flock to the town, attracted by its sandy beaches, lush greenery and winding trails.

Beidaihe’s pleasant scenery, balmy atmosphere and its proximity to Beijing caught the eye of the first generation of leaders of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). PRC founder Mao Zedong decided to hold annual retreats at this location, where party seniors could quietly brainstorm the country’s most intricate problems in a relaxed atmosphere.

Mao took some momentous decisions during the Beidaihe meetings, including the launch of the Great Leap Forward campaign, and the 1958 shelling of the Quemoy island — the closest Kuomintang outpost to the mainland.

Incidentally, a massive guesthouse, like dozens of similar constructions across China, sprang up in Beidaihe. Its purpose was to house visiting Soviet experts who were partnering China in its “socialist construction” during the 1950s.

Over the years, the end-July or early August Beidaihe conclaves became known for a unique feature, when the leaders of the day were joined by their predecessors, also called “elders”. During the informal interaction, the “elders” were free to criticise or offer non-binding advice to the leaders. The opinion of the “elders” has been taken seriously.

Though the previous generation may have left office, many of them continue to exercise influence in the rank and file of the Communist Party of China (CPC), mainly on the basis of ideology, region or policy. “Beidaihe is where and when senior leaders can get together in informal meetings to exchange their views on major policies and therefore, it plays a very significant role in policymaking in Chinese politics,” says Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, as quoted by the South China Morning Post .

The Beidaihe meetings are not announced but there are always giveaway signs that the summer retreat has commenced. An early August report by Xinhua news agency revealed that two senior party functionaries were already in Beidaihe to meet 58 top experts — the brain trust of the country. The two were Chen Xi, who heads the Organisation Department of the CPC and Sun Chunlan, a member of the 25-member Politburo. Ms. Sun is also a Vice-Premier of China, a position that showcases her remarkable rise from an ordinary worker in a clock factory soon after she passed out from the Anshan Industrial Technology Academy in the northeastern Liaoning province. Chinese media reports say the meeting of the two senior officials with the intellectuals marked the start of this year’s Beidaihe conclave.

Agenda of the meet

The precise agenda of the Beidaihe meeting is hard to discern, but sections of the Chinese media tracking the recent movements of the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, China’s top leadership, have drawn some early conclusions.

According to Chinese publication Duo Wei, popular among expats, the Beidaihe meeting will hope to give clear policy directions to a host of problems confronting China, from the trade war with the U.S. to the unrest in Hong Kong and the situation in Taiwan.

The situation in Xinjiang, where China’s “re-education camps” have attracted international criticism for rights violations, is also expected to feature at Beidaihe.

China Central Television (CCTV) reported in July that Wang Yang, the fourth-ranking Politburo Standing Committee member, had attended a three-day conference in the Hetian district of Xinjiang. CCTV introduced Mr. Wang as the head of the Central Committee’s Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group.

Mr. Wang, the troubleshooter, also paid a visit to Qinghai, a high altitude province on the Tibetan plateau, apparently to take stock of the politically sensitive assault on poverty.

Ahead of the Beidaihe meeting, Han Zheng, another Politburo Standing Committee member, has been visiting Shenzhen, China’s hi-tech city that is next door to Hong Kong. From Shenzhen, Mr. Han has been authorised to communicate with Hong Kong’s top leaders.

Atul Aneja is The Hindu’s Beijing correspondent.

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2022 7:34:34 am |