STORM CLOUDS OVER BEIDAIHE

Publication: China Brief Volume: 1 Issue: 2

by Willy Wo-Lap Lam

They are never reported in the official New China News Agency. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or government spokesmen would not even confirm that the so-called Beidaihe conferences exist. Yet every summer since the 1980s, senior leaders from Beijing and the regions have gathered at a choice strip of sand at the North China resort of Beidaihe for rounds of informal discussions on matters of state. This year, the Beidaihe meetings, scheduled to run from the last week of July to around mid-August, will have added significance because of pressing domestic and foreign concerns.

Top items on the domestic agenda are the legacy of President Jiang Zemin and personnel changes to take place at the 16th CCP Congress late next year. Relations with the United States and preparation for President George W. Bush’s October visit are expected to dominate the foreign agenda. Chinese sources say Jiang, set to retire from his position of party general secretary at that congress, wants the 200-odd cadres attending Beidaihe to affirm his place in the party pantheon.

THE DOMESTIC FORECAST

Jiang’s allies will also propose an amendment to the CCP charter to enshrine the Jiang Theory–in particular the Theory of the Three Representations–as a guiding principle of the party. The Three Representations Doctrine is a reference to the fact that the CCP must be representative of the most advanced productivity, the foremost culture and the fundamental interests of the broad masses. Jiang, who turns 75 in August, wants the party to accord him a status equal to, if not in some ways even more elevated, than that of Chairman Mao Zedong and late patriarch Deng Xiaoping. This is evident from the president’s address at the CCP’s 80th birthday on July 1, which concentrated on the achievements of the nation since he took over the helm in 1989.

According to a party source, state propaganda will cast both Mao and Deng as more transitional figures than epoch-making titans. Thus Mao spearheaded the transition from fractured, feudalistic China to the early phase of nationbuilding. But he didn’t do much for economic development. Deng retooled Stalinist central planning but died before he could make a go of the socialist market economy. “Jiang is portrayed as the real architect of a new era,” the source said; “he has laid a solid foundation for a market economy that matches international standards. And it is along Jiang’s path that the nation will go for decades on end.” Analysts say that it would be easier for Beidaihe participants, who include Central Committee members from all over the country, to hand Jiang a lofty status than to agree to a constitutional change.

Implicit in the Three Representations Theory is the fact that the party will throw open its doors to private businessmen and professionals, which was what Jiang advocated in his July 1 speech. After all, Jiang and his aides had explained that many members of these “new social sectors” could be considered representatives of advanced productivity and culture.

It is understood that Jiang and his advisers hope they can stifle the opposition put up by leftists, or quasi-Maoist conservatives headed by ideologues such as former propaganda chief Deng Liqun. These remnant Maoists have argued that the CCP–and socialism–will be adulterated if red capitalists, who are considered “exploiters,” are admitted to the party. According to diplomatic sources in Beijing, Deng Liqun and his associates have openly complained that Jiang and his Politburo colleagues are abandoning workers and peasants. “Someone wants to take away the hammer and sickle from the party flag–and put in their place a computer and satellite,” Deng reportedly fumed in a private gathering.

The second item on the Beidaihe agenda will testify to another ingrained CCP tradition: the division of the spoils among the party’s different factions. A preliminary list of nominees for the new 190-odd member Central Committee will be ready for deliberation. More important, top cadres, mainly members of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), will put forward their nominations for the new Politburo. Owing to retirement and other reasons, about half of the twenty-two incumbent members will step down next year to make way for Fourth Generation or younger cadres. Diplomatic analysts say that Jiang is pushing for the induction of at least two new members. One of them is Education Minister Chen Zhili, his old subordinate from Shanghai, who may be promoted party boss of the metropolis. The other is likely to be a new face from outside the central bureaucracy. The names of Zhejiang party secretary Zhang Dejiang, Jiangsu party boss Hui Liangyu and Beijing Mayor Liu Qi have been mentioned. A number of Jiang associates, including head of the party’s Organization Department Zeng Qinghong, Vice Premier Wu Bangguo and Guangdong party secretary Li Changchun will likely be given second five-year terms in the Politburo. Premier Zhu Rongji is believed to be lobbying for Politburo membership for two key lieutenants, People’s Bank of China Governor Dai Xianglong and State Council Secretary-General Wang Zhongyu. Other powerful PSC members, including National People’s Congress Chairman Li Peng and Vice President Hu Jintao, will also be lobbying on behalf of trusted associates. For example, Hu is throwing his support behind two regional leaders: Fujian party secretary Song Defu and Henan Governor Li Keqiang. Despite the apparent pre-eminence of the Jiang faction, the cut and thrust are tipped to be ferocious–and the horse-trading is expected to go on until weeks before the 16th congress. Thus it is highly unlikely that Beidaihe participants will arrive at even a preliminary consensus on the composition of the new PSC to be endorsed at the pivotal congress.

Informed analysts, however, say that the next standing committee will be dominated by four members: Hu Jintao, as party general secretary; Vice Premier Wen Jiabao, likely to be promoted premier; Zeng Qinghong, who will be put in charge of party affairs; and current head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Li Ruihuan, who may take over the NPC chairmanship from Li Peng. Other politicians deemed to have a chance of making the PSC include Guangdong’s Li Changchun and Vice Premier Wu Bangguo (both Jiang cronies) and law-and-order specialist Luo Gan (a protege of Li Peng). It is also likely that one or more representatives of the Third Generation will continue to exercise influence from behind the scenes. It is well known that Jiang, while vacating the PSC, would like to keep his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission for at least a few more years. Beijing is also abuzz with speculation that in the footsteps of Jiang, Li Peng, 72, is also scheming to hang on in some capacity. Irrespective of the outcome of such personnel-related wrangling, a body blow will have been delivered to political reform.

According to a cadre familiar with preparations for Beidaihe, one reform proposal to be tabled is that participants should consider new, and more modernization-minded, criteria for selecting Fourth Generation leaders. In addition to traditional values of being “both Red and expert,” for example, candidates for elevation must display knowledge of the market economy and global norms. In practice, however, deliberations on personnel issues will likely be steered mostly by factional considerations.

THE FOREIGN POLICY FORECAST

On the foreign policy front, Jiang is anxious to get the backing of the Politburo and other senior cadres for his largely conciliatory policy toward the United States. Diplomatic analysts in Beijing say that Jiang will report to his colleagues at Beidaihe about plans to make the much-awaited summit with Bush in October a success.

In private discussions since June, Jiang had asked his aides to foster a “positive atmosphere” in the run-up to the summit. A source close to Jiang’s personal think tank said Jiang had designated a timetable for rapprochement with the U.S. Thus the months of June and July would be “a period of winding down [bilateral tensions].” This meant that in the wake of unpleasant events such as the spy plane incident and Washington’s arms sales to Taiwan, Beijing would do its part in patching up differences. “Jiang hopes concrete improvement in ties can be achieved in August and September, leading up to a successful presidential summit,” the source said. The source added that both officials and the media had been instructed to give the impression that particularly after the departure of the spy plane from Hainan island early July, bilateral relations were set to enter a normal, even benevolent, cycle. In public statements, senior cadres have toed the line that “the sky has been cleared up after the passage of the storm.” Demonstrations of good will by the Chinese side have included the release of Chinese-American scholar Professor Li Shaomin and permission for American naval vessels to resume rest-and-recreation stopovers in Hong Kong.

Analysts say that, apart from reasons such as trade, Jiang is anxious to maintain good ties with Washington because he considers “great powers diplomacy” a major part of his legacy. The president, however, has continued to be criticized by nationalistic cadres and intellectuals for being too “soft” on Washington. Jiang and other “pro-U.S.” cadres such as Zhu will likely argue in Beidaihe that for the sake of developing the economy, Beijing has no choice but to at least temporarily stick to Deng’s famous dictum of “keeping a low profile and never taking the lead” in foreign policy.

Willy Wo-Lap Lam, one of Asia’s best known journalists and authors, is a senior China analyst at CNN’s Asia-Pacific Office in Hong Kong.