Hong Kong, Trade War Likely to Feature at Chinese Leaders' Secret Political Retreat

china-beidaihe2-072219.jpg A beach in Beidaihe, China, is shown in a file photo.

As reports indicate that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will soon hold its an annual political retreat in the seaside resort of Beidaihe, a wave of mass protest and popular anger in Hong Kong and the ongoing trade war with the United States will likely be firmly on the agenda, analysts said.

The ruling party never publicizes the exact dates and times of the meetings, where policies are hashed out and political alliances formed and broken, but analysts cited a number of trips made by high-ranking leaders to carry out "grassroots inspections" across China, which is often an indicator that the Beidaihe retreat will soon begin.

President Xi Jinping visited Inner Mongolia last week, while premier Li Keqiang, vice president Wang Qishan, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Wang Yang and Zhao Leji, who heads the party's internal disciplinary arm, fanned out in different directions: Wang Qishan to the northeast, Wang Yang to the northwestern region of Xinjiang, and Zhao to the southwestern province of Guizhou.

And Hebei provincial party secretary Wang Dongfeng went to Beidaihe earlier this month on a tour of inspection, another possible sign that the retreat is imminent.

Meanwhile, Xi appears to be keen to promote high-tech domestic security measures, in line with his view of "modernizing of the national system of governance" as the "fifth modernization" after industry, agriculture, defense, and science and technology.

Ironic choice of words

Independent journalist Gao Yu said the choice of words was deeply ironic, given that dissident Wei Jingsheng served a lengthy jail term for proposing democracy as the "fifth modernization" in 1979.

She said the aim of Xi's high-tech governance and institutional reform policy is purely to ensure that the Communist Party maintains its grip on power, and that this has been made explicit by top party ideologue Wang Huning.

"Wang Huning has said that the purpose of government reforms is to protect the central party leadership with Xi at the core," Gao said. "Not only is the Chinese Communist Party not promoting democracy; it is making a major turn in the opposite direction."

Gao said this year's Beidaihe meeting will need to focus on the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong, as well as the trade war with the U.S., although the party will likely opt for delaying tactics in both cases.

Professor Chen Kuide, executive chairman of the Princeton China Initiative, said that recent mass protests against planned amendments to the city's Fugitive Offenders Ordinance are a major headache for Beijing.

"This touches on Xi Jinping's assessment of his own standing," Chen said. "He is likely to want to focus on the issue of Hong Kong if he believes that it is starting to affect his image within party ranks."

"But he will want to avoid it if he thinks it will only broaden splits within the party," he said, speaking before protesters surrounded and vandalized symbols of Communist Party rule in Hong Kong on Sunday.

'Insults to China'

State-run news agency Xinhua quoted a string of pro-Beijing figures including former Hong Kong chief executives on Monday as "strongly condemning" the defacing of China's national emblem outside Beijing's Central Liaison Office in the former British colony.

"Some protesters surrounded the building of the liaison office," the report said. "The radicals devastated facilities, defaced the national emblem, and painted words insulting the country and nation."

It quoted former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa as saying that the actions were "a blatant challenge to national sovereignty and the authority of the central government," and calling for severe punishment.

Another retired Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying hit out at "reckless thugs who forget their ancestors," Xinhua reported.

Taiwan ThinkTank advisory committee member Chang Kuo-cheng said it was telling that Xi's administration has framed both the Hong Kong protests and the trade war as the result of "hostile foreign forces."

"This means that if anyone raises criticisms at Beidaihe, they can just be labeled as untrustworthy, as influenced by foreign countries, and the domestic situation as being under threat [as a result]," Chang said.

"It's hard [for Xi] to say who should take the blame for the situation in Hong Kong, because nobody in Beijing would be against the Hong Kong government pushing ahead with the extradition amendments," he said.

"Now that things have come to such a head, the leadership is going to have to deal with this together."

Trade war concerns

On trade, the Chinese government has upended a number of earlier commitments made to Washington, sparking a bilateral tariff war that will likely also be near the top of the agenda at Beidaihe, Gao said.

But the latest economic data shows that the Chinese economy grew by
6.2 in the second quarter, year on year, its lowest recorded growth rate since 1992.

"The two sides are still negotiating," Gao said. "The fact that they are still talking shows that there is indeed downward pressure on the Chinese economy."

"But the Chinese side has a feeling it will get lucky if it drags its feet ahead of Trump's bid for reelection next year," she said.

Reported by Jia Ao and Chen Meihua for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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