Beidaihe, a popular beach resort in China's Hebei province on the Bohai Sea coast, is the venue for an annual strategy meeting attended by top Beijing officials. Photo: iStock
Beidaihe, a popular beach resort in China's Hebei province on the Bohai Sea coast, is the venue for an annual strategy meeting attended by top Beijing officials. Photo: iStock

Beijing officials surrounding President Xi Jinping set the course for the future every summer in the celebrity seaside resort of Beidaihe. Everything points to a change of course. Apparently, the US president is making the powerful in the Middle Kingdom increasingly uncertain.

Always on the hour, the chimes Dongfang Hong sound (The East is Red) from the Telekom building in Beidaihe. The cultural-revolutionary melody is back in the celebrity resort of the Beijing party leadership on the Yellow Sea, even if the song no longer sings along. His second line is, “The sun is rising – as is Mao Tse-tung over China.”

It is a nostalgic memory. On the beaches of the summer capital 270 kilometers from Beijing, the Great Chairman always brooded many failed utopias during the hot months of July and August. Today’s star in the political arena, Party leader Xi Jinping, also arrives in Beidaihe every August with his Politburo, if only for barely two weeks. But they are not just for recreation, Beijing’s leadership is also discussing the future of the country. Unlike Mao, who swam in the sea and made it public, no outsider gets to see Xi.

That’s the same again this year. And yet many things are different. Because the leave of the officials is overshadowed by the threat of a trade war with the United States . Since August 1, President Xi has not publicly shown himself – the day on which Donald Trump threatened to tighten the proposed tariffs on Chinese imports worth $ 200 billion, from 10% percent to 25%. A few days later, the US Department of Commerce scheduled the start of its second round of penalties against China on the date of August 23.

Behind closed doors in the party is apparently heatedly discussed. A commentary in the “Volkszeitung” reveals between the lines what it is about. It cites a currently circulating view: some said that Beijing was guilty of escalating with Trump because it responded to his allegations with “excessive self-confidence and hubris.” Only that would have provoked the US to look up. China should have given in instead of always reacting with retaliation.

The commentator rejects such criticism. Just as against China before the US had also proceeded against the Soviet Union or Japan. Wrong is also the charge that China is no longer put its light under its bushel, as it used to be, but is advancing internationally. That was normal, because it had returned to the world stage as a decisive actor. China today is “an elephant that can not hide its size behind a bush.”

But in China’s propaganda has obviously used a rethinking. Du Wanhua, adviser to the Supreme People’s Court, publicly warned of a wave of bankruptcy by Chinese exporters when Trump gets serious. Disillusionment in dealing with the US president is also caused by China’s collapsed stock market, the devaluation of its currency against the dollar or the falling trade surplus. The magazine “Caixin” also pointed to Turkey’s problems with Trump on Tuesday: “China feels the frost.”

Beijing’s leadership must deal with a sudden wave of public criticism that comes from social media

Beijing’s leadership must also deal with a sudden wave of public criticism that comes from social media. In July, Tsinghua University lawyer Xu Zhangrun described how many feel “a sense of insecurity and growing malaise in the direction of the country and their own personal safety.”

Without naming the party leader by name, he criticized its autocracy, power arrogance and the re-ideologization of society. The abolition of his term limit in favor of a lifelong rule had “shocked the world.” Among Chinese people, she sparked concern that her country would return to Mao’s “formidable times.”

The veteran fan Liqin had caused even more attention on May 4 with a 24-page wall newspaper, which he had stuck in the Beijing University. He attacked Xi’s new cult of personality, his power: “I had never expected in my more than 70 years that I would experience something like this again.” His protest letter was only 10 minutes. But it immediately found its way to the Internet.

Members of the Chinese leadership share some criticisms. For example, Liu Yadong, the editor-in-chief of China’s Science Newspaper, received official support when in June he spearheaded the hype of official propaganda that China was a global leader in science and technology. Such megalomania would fool Beijing’s leadership and the public.

Headlines in China also made 27 graduates of Tsinghua University , who in early August demanded the release of Tsinghua economist Hu Angang in an open letter to their principal. He is regarded as a Xi supporter and propagandist of theories, according to which China has long surpassed the United States. Hu would overestimate the economy and the technological and social development of the country and only cause havoc.

And so President Xi was taken out of the limelight. As late as March, as the nation’s ideological guardian, he had written his “Xijinping thinking” into the constitution, guaranteeing lifelong rule. As the “core of the party” he leveraged the collective leadership.

But already in July, the grotesque personality cult sparked around Xi suddenly ended: Since July 9, the “People’s Daily” no longer prints daily photos and reports about him on her front page. In Beijing, the districts were instructed to remove all portraits of Xi and ideological slogans about the 19th Party Congress. As WELT learned, this was a decision of the party leadership implemented – leaving open whether Xi so wanted or was brought by others.

Beidaihe has also thinned out his once-hundreds of propaganda posters. Xi is only present on a few slogans. For this, two dozen new signs with neutral slogans were rammed into the flowerbeds in front of the old diplomatic hotel. Now a discreet sign in the flowerbed says: China supports a multilateral system, free trade and an open world economy

At the same time, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who recently had to relinquish more and more responsibilities to party leader Xi, has now come to the fore. On August 9, he joined with Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly. The occasion was the visit to China of the long-time Ecuadorian Foreign Minister María Fernanda Espinosa, who was just elected to the presidency of the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

The PM told her that under the “current international situation, a multilaterally determined world order is more important than ever.” He called for the protection of the UN Charter and the World Trade Organization (WTO) for “improving the free trade system” and “resisting protectionism.” Beijing seeks to gain allies in the United Nations against Trump’s policies. So urgent is the concern that Li had the UN representative brought from Beijing to Beidaihe.

Li got more to say on Sunday. For the 40th anniversary of the signing of the peace and friendship treaty with Japan, he exchanged messages with Prime MInister Shinzo Abe . Both professed to want to normalize their relationships completely. Abe will visit China by the end of the year, and President Xi’s first visit to Japan in 2019 is planned.

What conclusions Beijing draws from the debate as to how far Xi is ready to change course will show after the summer break in Beidaihe. An experienced Beijing political scientist fears a rude awakening.

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