By Yew Lun Tian
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s chief of staff met with experts holidaying at Beidaihe on Thursday, a signal that typically means top leaders have started their vacation at the seaside resort, even as large areas of northern China remain flooded.
The summer retreat comes as questions continue to swirl around the unexplained removal as foreign minister of Qin Gang, a former rising star under Xi’s patronage, the abrupt replacement of the top brass at the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, and as the leadership struggles to find the right tools to stimulate the economy.
Beidaihe has traditionally provided a relaxed setting for retired Chinese Communist Party leaders to interact and raise concerns with the current leadership.
But as Xi has consolidated power over the past decade, the scope for elders to speak their minds has shrunk, said a Chinese scholar who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak to foreign media.
Cai Qi, who is Xi’s chief of staff, met with 57 technology experts on vacation at Beidaihe and urged them to do more to make China technologically self-reliant, state news agency Xinhua reported.
China does not announce when leaders go on holiday but typically indicates the start of their vacation with an announcement about meeting experts.
Leaders then disappear from public view for about two weeks.
It is unclear if Qin, who would be qualified to holiday at Beidaihe with the leadership since he retains the title of state councillor, will turn up. Qin has not been seen in public since June 25.
One of Xi’s last tasks before going on vacation was to instruct emergency responders to work harder at rescuing those affected by floods battering northern China as a result of Typhoon Doksuri.
At least 100,000 people in the province where Beidaihe is located have been evacuated, but the resort itself has not been affected.
Since the founding of the people’s republic, current and retired party and government leaders have gathered for summer vacations at Beidaihe, 3-1/2 hours east of Beijing by car.
But Beidaihe is not just fun and games.
Top leaders have traditionally held official meetings at the resort to discuss important matters such choosing the next leadership, often in consultation with retired party elders.
Absent this year will be Jiang Zemin, a former party chief who influenced Chinese politics until his death last year.
It is unclear if Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor who was removed from the stage last October in the middle of a vote to determine the party’s leaders for the next five years, will be at the resort.
The State Council Information Office, which handles media queries on behalf of the party and government, did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Giles Elgood)