Beijing leaders stage annual Beidahe meet


BEIJING, AFP

Mainland China’s rulers have gathered for their annual pow-wow in the resort of Beidahe where intense jockeying over next year’s leadership changes will be interspersed with group dips in the Bohai Sea.

President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji, parliament chief Li Peng and Vice President Hu Jintao have all arrived in the resort town 250 kilometers east of Beijing, a Chinese official told AFP.

“Of course they will be discussing next year’s leadership changes, but there are also many other issues that need to be discussed,” he said.

Since the ’50s and the days of Mao Zedong, mainland China’s leaders have descended on the former fishing village to escape the stifling heat of the capital and debate affairs of state in heavily-guarded villas.

The busy schedule is punctuated by seafood lunches and mandatory siestas before the heavy political bartering sessions at smoky banquets and karaoke rooms.

Following in the tradition of Mao, top Communist Party officials and ministers will seek to impress their peers by showing up during President Jiang’s regular swims in the murky waters of the Bohai.

“Leadership changes will be discussed informally of course, while other specific issues like the World Trade Organization and the western development plan will be on the agenda,” said Wu Guoguang, a China scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Other perennial issues to be hashed out include Taiwan and the ongoing crackdowns on organized crime and the Falun Gong spiritual group.

Maneuvering ahead of the momentous Communist Party leadership changes at next year’s 16th party congress is intensifying as older leaders work to hang onto power and younger pretenders seek ways to claw their way up, Western diplomats said.

Besides electing the top party positions, including a new line up in the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, next year’s congress will also see a revamp of the 21-member politburo and the 220-member central committee.

Jiang Zemin, Li Peng and Zhu Rongji had been expected to step down from their state and party posts to make way for fresh blood, but both Jiang and Li are now reported to be trying to hold onto power behind the scenes.

“It’s still not clear to what extent Jiang Zemin and Li Peng are going to retire, it appears that they are willing to give up their posts on the standing committee but are seeking to maintain official positions in other capacities,” Wu said.

Jiang would likely hold on to his position as chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, while Li could remain in power as mainland China’s president, a Western diplomat said.

Zhu has firmly insisted that he will retire, no matter what.