China Hints That Leaders Are Holding Annual Beidaihe Conclave

August 6, 2018 Updated: August 6, 2018    

BEIJING—Chinese state media has given the first hint that an annual conclave of senior leaders is occurring at the resort of Beidaihe, through a report that says the head of the regime’s Organization Department had visited government workers who are vacationing there.

Traditionally, top party leaders visit the seaside town every summer in an unofficial retreat to discuss personnel moves and policy ideas behind closed doors.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have not appeared on the main evening news since the start of the month, when they are normally on almost daily, suggesting they might have been in Beidaihe.

In a short dispatch on the evening of Aug. 4, the state-run Xinhua news agency said that Chen Xi, who, as head of the Organization Department, oversees the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s personnel decisions, had been entrusted by Xi to visit “vacationing experts” in Beidaihe. The note said Vice Premier Hu Chunhua had accompanied Chen.

The retreat is often kept secret by the Party.

This year’s meeting would be the first since Xi cemented his power by scrapping presidential term limits at the start of his second five-year term in March.

Since then, he has faced an escalating trade war with the United States, development pains with his signature One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative, and disquiet among sections of the political elite over the Communist Party’s increasingly nationalistic rhetoric.

Unidentified people with ties to the leadership and foreign diplomats have told Reuters that the Beidaihe meeting was likely to happen in early August.

Xi’s next meeting with a visiting foreign leader isn’t expected until mid-August, when he is due to have talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

China’s State Council Information Office, which doubles as the party spokesman’s office, didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

Beidaihe, about two hours east of Beijing by high-speed train, is steeped in Party history, although sources with ties to the leadership say Xi doesn’t like the place.

The resort started as a spot for Western missionaries and traders to escape the summer heat in the late 19th century, though few of those buildings still stand.

After the communist takeover in 1949, it became a venue for leaders to relax with family and talk in private with peers.

What’s on the Agenda

Insider sources told Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily on July 14 that “major errors” committed by Party officials would be at the top of the agenda at Beidaihe.

Following weeks of negative repercussions for the Chinese economy as a result of U.S.–China trade war, as well as major public scandals such as the spread of faulty vaccines for children, there is much for the Party leadership to discuss.

Recently, unusual state media coverage and a quickly-convened political meeting led observers to speculate that the Party elite is displeased with how Xi has handled the trade war.

Former Chinese senior military officer and princeling Luo Yu told Radio Free Asia in a July 20 interview that he predicts the U.S.–China trade war will be a key topic of discussion, given the recent spate of online criticisms toward Xi that has been circulating on the internet.

Something Unusual

Meanwhile, the choice of Chen Xi to visit the “vacationing experts” is unusual because in past years, it was typically the secretary of the Party’s central Secretariat office that had that responsibility.

That position is currently held by Wang Huning, a key political strategist for Xi and a member of the most powerful decision-making body in the Party, the Politburo Standing Committee.

But last month, some Chinese media reported that Wang may be in trouble amid the post trade-war Party turmoil, because Wang is the chief mastermind behind many of the Party’s major propaganda campaigns.

Reporting by Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard. Epoch Times staff member Annie Wu contributed to this report.