Beidaihe meeting

Hot topics loom at Beidaihe summer summit as Chinese leaders meet to discuss reform

New leaders look set to meet at Beidaihe soon for summer summit, with reform high on the agenda, but there may be a few clouds on the horizon

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:24pm

A year ago, Communist Party chiefs convened a secretive conclave in the seaside town of Beidaihe to finalise plans to hand over power to a new generation of leaders in the wake of the most serious crisis in years.

Twelve months on, the new leaders are gathering for their first summer summit to discuss their policy agenda for a crucial party plenum this autumn.

They may also discuss the handling of the case that sparked last year's crisis - that of the disgraced Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai .

The Beidaihe meeting, or "summer summit" as it is known to China watchers, is an opportunity for the nation's leaders to meet in a relaxed and informal setting to discuss and set the tone for major domestic issues.

Such is the level of secrecy that the meeting's existence is rarely acknowledged by state media.

The first signal that it was under way last year was the presence of key leaders in Beidaihe.

But activity in the resort town in Hebei province hints that the third plenary meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee is imminent.

"The Politburo will almost certainly meet before the end of this month to decide policy direction for the coming year and set the agenda for the third plenum," said Deng Yuwen , former deputy editor of Study Times, a key publication run by the Central Party School.

Analysts noted that the seven most senior officials from the Politburo Standing Committee had all made inspection trips across the country earlier this month to "prepare for the upcoming series of important meetings".

The analysts expect President Xi Jinping and second-in-command Premier Li Keqiang to use the plenum to unveil their political and economic agendas.

Steve Tsang, professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies and director of the China Policy Institute at Nottingham University in Britain, said: "I think Xi will try to use his 'honeymoon' period to push forward his reform agenda. What we have seen so far, particularly party reforms, will probably figure high on the list." Xigen Li, an associate professor at City University of Hong Kong's department of media and communications, said of the Beidaihe plenum: "People have their own agendas to present at such meetings, depending on the urgency of the issues and the negotiations among participants."

Analysts expect the meeting will also decide on how to deal with the case of Bo, with the party eager to put one of its worst scandals behind it.

Reports by media outlets close to the government - such as and websites run by Hong Kong's pro-Beijing newspapers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po - said Bo's trial would take place soon at a local court in Jinan , Shandong province.

They said the municipal court had rehearsed how it would handle courtroom crowds and intense media interest during Bo's trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

Bo has been reportedly held at Qincheng prison in Beijing and many believe his trial is imminent after the completion of the trial of former railways minister Liu Zhijun , who received a suspended death sentence on July 8 for taking almost 60 million yuan (HK$75 million) in bribes.

Deng said that how Bo's case was handled would be a test for the new leadership.

He said: "Dealing with Bo will be controversial as it will not satisfy all the various factions within the party, certain retired leaders and the princelings [their children]. And any deal will also be debated among the public."

Bo was considered a "princeling" himself as the son of former vice-premier and Long March veteran Bo Yibo . He gained popularity for his crackdown on triad-style gangs and a campaign to foster a mini-cult of Mao Zedong and celebrate "red culture" in Chongqing.

Analysts also say the Politburo is likely to discuss crucial reform proposals to be tabled at the plenum. Steve Tsang said Xi appeared to want to take advantage of the fact that he had taken on full authority.

He became chairman of the Central Military Commission - which, in previous leadership handovers, has remained in the hands of the former president for a couple of years - to make the maximum impact.

Tsang believed the one issue that would attract the most attention within the higher echelons of the party is what Xi plans to do to reform the party itself.

"If Xi really wants to leave his mark, he may well push these in the coming months," he said.

Xi's style so far suggests that he is a calculated risk taker who wants to assert his leadership, Tsang said.

He warned that such an approach could create tension in a party in which collective leadership had become the norm since the death of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping .

Li, of City University, said key issues that could be on the table in Beidaihe included "measures to deal with the economic slowdown; concrete steps to push forward Xi's 'mass line' rectification campaign (an attempt to stay in touch with the views of ordinary citizens); and social conflicts caused by environment deterioration and corruption at different levels of party and government organisations".

Li said the meeting was also expected to work on conceptual and theoretical guidelines to strengthen the main ideas of Xi's Chinese dream, a slogan Xi has often used since becoming party leader last November to encapsulate his vision of a revitalised nation.

But Li added: "More likely, the meeting will work on specific measures to deal with urgent issues that threaten the credibility of the party and government and pose risks to the legitimacy of the party to continue holding power."

Jianguang Shen, chief China economist at Mizuho Securities Asia, said that implementing bold economic reforms that could sustain growth had become imperative for the new leadership amid an unprecedented slowdown.

In a research report released on May 13, Barclays chief economist Huang Yiping said seven reform proposals - in the financial sector, the fiscal system, land tenure, prices, bureaucracy, income distribution and household registration - would be presented at the third plenum.

Shen said that since Li became premier in March, he had introduced a series of economic measures, including financial reforms, elimination of administrative red tape, financial deleveraging and urbanisation.

He believed that the plenum would be likely to endorse Li's economic philosophy, dubbed "Likonomics" by the media.

"The three pillars of Likonomics are liberalising key prices, including interest and exchange rates; eliminating entry barriers and red tape; and deepening reforms that will guide China's reform in coming years," Shen said.

It was at another third plenum in late 1978 that Deng Xiaoping and his allies inaugurated a series of economic measures that launched China's capitalistic reform and "opening up".

Hopes are now high that the upcoming summit in Beidaihe will revive further long-stalled market reforms.