Ex-leaders’ influence ‘wanes’ at secretive Chinese Communist Party summer getaway

Gathering of present and past leaders at Beidaihe to discuss major issues scrapped this year, sources say, as President Xi Jinping strengthens grip on power ahead of second term

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 August, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 August, 2017, 1:19pm

The influence of Chinese Communist Party elders appeared to be on the wane at the key annual summer conclave this year, sources said, underscoring President Xi Jinping’s dominance as he makes final preparations for his second term in office.

The annual gathering at the seaside resort of Beidaihe – along with a preparatory meeting of ministers, provincial governors and military top brass in Beijing – used to be the main way to build consensus among the party’s senior officials and retired leaders on issues such as major reshuffles or altering the party’s ideology.

But two separate sources told the South China Morning Post that no informal gathering of serving and retired leaders was held this year at Beidaihe to discuss the state of the country or this autumn’s leadership reshuffle at a five-yearly party congress.

One source close to a party elder said the regular meeting did not take place during the conclave earlier this month and the event was purely viewed as a “holiday” for senior party members.

Another senior state media source confirmed that no gathering of present and former leaders took place. “Someone has already mustered full control and elders’ politics has faded out,” the source said. “There was no gathering at the seaside.”

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The sources did not reveal whether current leaders had sought private meetings with some party elders individually to seek their views.

State television reported late on Wednesday that the party’s No 3 leader and top legislator Zhang Dejiang began a three-day tour of Hunan province on Monday, signalling the fortnight conclave had ended.

Former president Hu Jintao’s administration introduced polling at preparatory meetings ahead of the annual Beidaihe gathering about a decade ago.

It allowed senior officials to indicate who they wanted to see elected to the party’s Politburo.

Their views would then be discussed by serving and former leaders at Beidaihe.

At a preparatory meeting in 2007, about 400 top officials voted for around 200 people to be put forward as candidates for the 25-strong Politburo, state-run Xinhua reported.

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A third Beijing-based source said senior cadres attended preparatory meetings on July 26 to 27 and were able to vote on – and add to – a Politburo shortlist, but the two others sources’ accounts suggests this list was not discussed in a group meeting with former party leaders at Beidaihe.

State TV broadcast footage of Xi’s speech addressing delegates at the preparatory meeting in Beijing last month.

Xinhua reported that Xi had talked of the need to revise the party’s guiding ideology. Observers said the remarks paved the way for amending the party’s constitution at this autumn’s congress to enshrine his political philosophy.

Analysts said that after Xi was given “core leader” status within the party last year the importance of the senior officials preparatory meeting and Beidaihe as a forum to discuss policy and appointments diminished.

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Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said that if different political factions were sharing power within the party then the votes for membership of the Politburo took on a greater importance and significance.

“This year may be different from what has happened before,” Zhang said, given Xi’s dominance.

Bo Zhiyue, a Chinese politics expert, said details of the Beidaihe gathering were hard to glean because of the secrecy surrounding the annual event.

However, Xi’s dominant position suggested that elders in the party would have little say on changes within its leadership or constitution, he said. “Based on what Xi has done, he seems unlikely to listen to the seniors.”

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Wu Qiang, a former Tsinghua University political science lecturer, said the Beidaihe gathering was a way for serving and retired officials to exchange ideas and thoughts and was still useful for the party under Xi’s presidency.

“The gathering is not for decision-making, but for the elite to talk,” Wu said. “Xi will probably continue with the tradition. The conclave can still serve as a platform for negotiation and consensus-building.”

The Politburo is likely to meet later this month.

It may finalise the shortlist of candidates for the next Politburo, according to one mainland media source.

The list is subject to a final vote by the next session’s Central Committee immediately after this autumn’s party congress in Beijing.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan and Jun Mai