No One Knows Whether One of China’s Most Important Political Meetings Will Even Be Run

August 7, 2015 Updated: August 11, 2015

It’s summer time in China, and the Communist Party’s top leaders and elders are due in the resort town of Beidaihe for an informal, but politically significant secret meeting—a meeting that might very well not take place at all this year, according to Chinese state-run media.

Since former Communist Party chief Mao Zedong took a liking to Beidaihe in the early 1950s, China’s leaders have met there in the unofficial “summer capital” almost yearly to iron out the country and Party’s affairs—who should be promoted or purged, and what policy should be passed is often decided in the coastal town on the Bohai Sea before it gets rubber stamped in Beijing.

What would likely be discussed at the Beidaihe sessions are often the subject of intense speculation by many Chinese both on the mainland and abroad.

The discussions in recent days, however, have shifted from what the cadres will talk about to whether or not there will even be a meeting, thanks to conflicting reports from state-run media.

On Aug. 5, Economy and Nation Weekly, a magazine owned by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, ran an article with the headline “No need to wait, the Beidaihe meeting is off.” The article said that there was no need for the Party’s top leaders to meet at the seaside resort to discuss important political and economic matters as they have all been dealt with at the Politburo sessions on July 20 and July 30.

“As China promotes transparency and standardization of the political process, Beidaihe will no longer be known as a mysterious retreat resort. It will return to be a rare health resort in North China,” it said.

As for the meeting, “Is there any meaning? Is there a need? Is there even a possibility?” the article asked rhetorically.

That same day, state-run China Daily reported that the Beidaihe meeting was “upcoming,” and economic development was up for discussion.

Other media pointed to the absence or presence of top leaders at Beidaihe itself.

Peng Pai, a state-funded online news website, reported that on Aug. 5 that Chinese leader Xi Jinping had sent Politburo member Liu Yunshan to Beidaihe to oversee a meeting of 54 “experts.” Overseas online news website Bowen Press reported the same day that former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, 89, was already at Beidaihe enjoying a dip in the sea. But on Aug. 6, Xinhua reported that Liu was at the funeral of former State Councilor of China Zhang Jinfu with Xi and other Politburo members at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing, about 186 miles from Beidaihe.

If there’s no meeting this year, then it shows clearly that Xi Jinping has solidly established his authority, according to former Party member turned critic Xin Ziling. “The Beidaihe meeting has been slowly transformed into a session where some developments are communicated to Party elders instead of being something truly decisive,” Xin said.

In fact, the investigation or prosecution of top former Party personnel—Ling Jihua, top aide to ex-Chinese leader Hu Jintao; Zhou Benshun, a crony to purged security czar Zhou Yongkang; Guo Boxiong, a top military leader—had already been done before the seaside meeting, and there’s nothing more to negotiate, Xin added. Important matters have been “already decided in the Politburo Standing Committee meeting presided by Xi Jinping; a notice to the old cadres is enough,” he said.

Canceling the meeting would also allow the recent Shanghai stock market crash to be conveniently swept under a rug, according to political commentator Shi Da.

Shi believes that the July stock disaster was the work of Jiang Zemin’s political faction within the Communist Party, and was something that he intended to bring up while at Beidaihe to discredit Xi Jinping.

However, by “killing the tradition” of meeting at Beidaihe—”a black box of state policies”—Xi is looking to end one of the last channels for veteran cadres to carry out their politicking, Shi said.