Regional officials are fighting for more autonomy as they submit reports to Beijing as part of the last preparations for the leadership meetings at the Beidaihe resort. The month-long series of informal conferences is due to start about August 10. Key topics on the agenda include the mainland's accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the development of western provinces and 'party construction'. Leaders of all provinces and major cities are in the process of submitting papers and recommendations to central authorities. A party source said in Beijing yesterday the provincial and municipal cadres were telling the central leadership unless they received more autonomous economic powers they would be hard-put to meet the challenges of WTO accession. Most of the pressure is being exerted by central and western provinces, many of which are struggling with unemployment and lack of development funds. 'Officials in central and western areas are saying unless they have more autonomy and more favourable policies they will have difficulty attracting foreign capital or creating new jobs,' the source said. The Beijing leadership is worried about a worsening of already serious urban and rural unemployment in the wake of the influx of foreign goods. It is understood autonomous powers and favourable policies being sought by local officials include the right to exploit their own natural resources, local legislation rights, foreign-trade rights and tax and other concessions. Provincial media have reported that Beijing has in principle allowed Xinjiang to exploit its own natural gas - or to form ventures with foreign companies for joint exploitation. This will vastly boost revenues in the autonomous region. Other provinces have demanded that Beijing give them adequate subsidies - in either open or hidden forms - so that their goods and services can compete with foreign products after WTO accession. A source close to organisers of the Beidaihe meetings said to make their cases more persuasive, many local leaders had painted a bleak picture of the law and order situation in their jurisdictions. 'Local cadres are arguing if unemployment worsens after WTO, the already bad law and order situation will deteriorate and constitute a grave threat to political stability nationwide,' the source said. 'Central leaders have asked police and state security personnel to double-check the figures presented by local cadres.' In recent speeches, however, President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji have emphasised the importance of re-centralising economic powers through means including the more efficient collection of taxes. Meanwhile, a main theme of 'party construction', which will be discussed at the Beidaihe gathering, will be the weeding out of corrupt cadres and the promotion of a new generation of competent and politically trustworthy officials. The leadership is expected to endorse the final verdicts on major corruption cases, including those connected with the port of Xiamen and Guangxi province.