President Xi Jinping will stretch out on a beach lounger in the seaside resort of Beidaihe in Hebei province later this month and splash on the sunscreen.
Temperatures will probably be a balmy 25 degrees Celsius unlike the hot air and rising trade war tensions coming from Beijing and Washington.
Nearly 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, from the hustle and bustle of China’s capital, the Communist Party elite, including Xi, will gather for their summer working vacation.
The conversation is likely to be dominated by the state of the economy, deteriorating relations with the United States and the anti-government protests raging in Hong Kong.
Top of the agenda looks certain to be the latest round of tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump on Chinese exports to America worth US$300 billion, which are slated to kick in on September 1.
Already the fallout has been substantial.
“I am aware of [the announcement],” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the media on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ summit in Bangkok on Friday.
“Adding tariffs is definitely not a constructive way to solve the economic and trade frictions. It is not a correct way,” he added.
In response, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated Trump’s stance on the year-long trade conflict after holding talks with Wang earlier this week at the gathering of Southeast Asian nations.
“For decades, China has taken advantage of trade. It’s time for that to stop,” Pompeo told business and political leaders in Thailand.
“China’s problems are home-grown, but President Trump’s confrontation of China’s unfair trade practices has helped shine a light on them,” he added.
For the ruling CCP and the exclusive gathering of VIPs at Beidaihe, discussions will revolve around shoring up a slowing economy in the face of eternal headwinds.
Indeed, this coastal scenic spot has become a place to relax while talking about the major issues of the day since the time of Chairman Mao Zedong.
He fell in love with the seaside town back in 1953 and introduced the idea of a working holiday for the senior cadre class while paddling, or swimming, in the sea.
Late-night summer soirees dissecting CCP doctrine took place there in the early years of the Cold War.
After Mao’s era, the debate switched to China’s new economic model under the “General Architect of Reforms,” Deng Xiaoping, nearly 25 years later.
Since then, presidents have come and gone but Beidaihe’s status has become enshrined in Party folklore.
“It is rumored that the current administration had the party elites closely monitored during the Beidaihe retreats where current and retired CCP leaders meet informally,” George Yin, of the Dartmouth College in the US, wrote in a commentary for the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
The challenges are obvious this year in what can only be described as a summer of discontent. Even though trade talks resumed in Shanghai earlier this week, progress was minimal, although both negotiating teams did agree to meet in the US next month before Trump raised the stakes.
“I think they want to try and make a deal with us, but I’m not sure,” Trump said on Thursday evening. “Until such time that there is a deal, we will be taxing the hell out of China.”
What follows next will only escalate the conflict with China’s Commerce Ministry warning of “countermeasures.”
Beijing has hinted that it could restrict the exports of “rare earths” vital to the US technology sector. It could also unveil a blacklist of “unreliable foreign companies,” according to state media reports.
On the broader diplomatic front, the spat comes at a time when Xi’s administration has increased military spending.
This, in turn, has transformed the balance of power in the East and South China Seas as new naval carrier groups flex their muscles under an umbrella of Chengdu J-20 stealth fighters.
Moreover, Xi’s signature foreign policy project, the $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative, has come under fire from Washington.
Launched in a fanfare of state-media hype in 2013, the BRI is epic in scale and has become an extension of China’s global ambitions.
Crucial to the program are strands of the ‘New Silk Road’ superhighways connecting the world’s second-largest economy with 70 nations and 4.4 billion people across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe in a maze of multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects, including a web of digital links.
“Our investments don’t serve a government, and our investments here don’t serve a political party, or frankly a country’s imperial ambitions,” Pompeo said in Bangkok.
“We don’t fund bridges to close gaps of loyalty,” he added in a blunt statement about the BRI venture.
Naturally, Beijing has denied such allegations with Xi painting a completely different picture.
“The Belt and Road is an initiative for economic cooperation, instead of a geopolitical alliance or military league, and it is an open and inclusive process rather than an exclusive bloc or ‘China club’,” he said in April. “Everything should be done in a transparent way and we should have zero tolerance for corruption.”
Against this backdrop, the two economic superpowers are also entangled in a war of words after Hong Kong was plunged into its biggest political crisis since the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Waves of protests have taken place against a now suspended extradition bill which would have seen the city’s citizens sent to the mainland for trial in CCP-controlled courts.
The massive demonstrations have turned into a battle of wills between Beijing and the protesters, who are calling for greater political freedom and increased democracy under the “one country, two systems” formula hammered out before the handover.
“[There are] signs of foreign forces behind the protests,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at the end of last month. “I wonder if these US officials can truthfully answer to the world the role the US has played in recent events in Hong Kong.”
Her comments came after the US State Department condemned attacks on protesters by alleged triad gangs and heavy-handed policing as “particularly disturbing.”
With problems piling up, Xi might decide to forego the sunscreen and opt for a working holiday in a darkened room.