China hints leaders holding annual Beidaihe conclave

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese state media has given the first hint that an annual conclave of senior leaders is happening at the resort of Beidaihe, in a report saying the head of the organization department had visited government workers holidaying there.

Traditionally top party leaders visit the seaside town every summer on an unofficial retreat to discuss personnel moves and policy ideas behind closed doors.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have not appeared on the main evening news since the start of the month, when normally they are on almost daily, suggesting they may have been in Beidaihe.

In a short dispatch on Saturday evening, the official Xinhua news agency said that Chen Xi, who as head of the Organisation Department oversees the ruling Communist Party’s personnel decisions, had been entrusted by Xi to visit “vacationing experts” in Beidaihe. It said Vice Premier Hu Chunhua had accompanied Chen.

Chen told the experts to maintain their “strong patriotism” and to use it as motivation to contribute to the realization of the “great rejuvenation of China”, according to the Xinhua report.

The retreat is often kept secret by the party.

This year’s meeting would be the first since Xi cemented his power by scrapping presidential term limits at the start of his second five-year term in March.

Since then he has faced an escalating trade war with the United States, development pains with his signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, and disquiet among sections of the political elite over the Communist Party’s increasingly nationalistic rhetoric.

Sources with ties to the leadership and foreign diplomats have told Reuters that the Beidaihe meeting was likely to happen in early August.

Xi’s next meeting with a visiting foreign leader is not expected until mid-August when he is due to have talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

China’s State Council Information Office, which doubles as the party spokesman’s office, did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

Beidaihe, about two hours east of Beijing by high-speed train, is steeped in party history, though sources with ties to the leadership say Xi is not a fan of the place.

The resort started as a spot for Western missionaries and traders to escape the summer heat in the late 19th century, though few of those buildings still stand.

After the communist takeover in 1949, it became a venue for leaders to relax with family and talk in private with peers.

The founder of modern China, Mao Zedong, was particularly fond of it, and his calligraphy of a poem he composed there is displayed around town.

Reporting by Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates