Corruption the watchword as annual national summits near
Officials and businessmen pay their usual call on their connections in the capital amid caution over President Xi's anti-bribery crackdown
Every year in March, the country's most important officials and businessmen will converge in Beijing for the two annual top-level political summits known as "Liang Hui".
This year, many will wonder if it will be cleanest gathering because of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption crackdown.
It's no secret that March, when the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference are held, is also the best time for high-end restaurants and shops in Beijing in terms of banquet and luxury product sales. It has been at least for the past decade.
During this period, local government officials, including the many delegates to the national legislature and advisory body, take the opportunity to visit their connections in the capital, typically those senior officials in various government ministries and policymaking agencies.
Of course, when they visit, they can't just go empty-handed. That is why luxury stores, especially watch shops, often see strong sales in the month.
I covered "Liang Hui" sessions for the five years to 2008, staying at the landmark Beijing Hotel. There were several gift shops at the hotel and my colleagues and I often noticed that many expensive watches were out of stock as soon as the summits began.
And it was definitely not just Beijing Hotel that had good banquet business. Other high-end hotels and restaurants did brisk business, too.
Some restaurants even prepared special "Liang Hui" menus, which easily cost more than 1,000 yuan (HK$1,270) per person. And that did not include drinks.
A bottle of mao-tai cost about 5,000 yuan at five-star hotels and many hotels would be out of stock of the fiery white spirit during those two important weeks in March.
Private businessmen - many who are also NPC and CPPCC members - usually did exactly the same thing for their important connections in Beijing when they attended the annual gatherings.
If local officials bought expensive gifts for central government officials in the hope they could gain promotions faster, businessmen of course had clearer goals: whoever could help win more deals or smoothen the business process, would be bought gifts.
Will this year be different? Yes and no.
One chief executive friend said he had received a message from a so-called consulting firm that claimed to be able to provide "high-end business dining and partying services especially for the needs of Liang Hui in March". What the message suggested was obvious. The firm also guaranteed 100 per cent confidentiality.
On the other hand, bribery attempts would not be so blatant this year in view of the anti-corruption drive. Activities will go underground while corrupt officials and businessmen will be more discreet in their affairs.
But corruption will not end just because of Xi's determination to stop it. So, let's wait and see how fruitful the "Liang Hui" sessions remain for our mainland comrades this year.