Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 5 News List

China's new leaders break with retreat tradition

REUTERS , BEIJING

Chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東) started the Communist tradition of secret summer retreats to the sea at Beidaihe in the 1950s. His successors Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) and Jiang Zemin (江澤民) kept it alive through the 1980s and 1990s.

But China's new leaders headed by President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) appear to be putting a stop to the exclusive beach gathering, which over the years saw secret debates over how to retake Taiwan, unfolding power struggles and even discussions about a coup.

"They haven't requested that we make any preparations. We hear they aren't coming," a Beidaihe government official said from the oceanside district in Hebei province, 300km east of Beijing.

The Web site of the People's Daily (www.people.com.cn) said at the weekend officials would not be meeting there this summer and they were not allowed to go there without approval, but did not mention the future.

The move is in keeping with the "man of the people" image the new leadership has put forward, staking their tenuous but tightening grip on power on public perception to a greater extent than their predecessors.

"The new leadership is very image-conscious," said a diplomat in Beijing. "The trend does look like they are trying to project an image of something new."

Analysts say the new leadership has much to lose if it allows behind-the-scene activities.

Hu's powerful predecessor Jiang Zemin, 76, retained his job as head of the military and his trusted aide, Zeng Qinghong (曾慶紅) , fifth in the party hierarchy, is seen as waiting in the wings should the new leaders falter.

Cancelling or at least scaling back Beidaihe this year may give Hu time to find his feet after being thrown a major health crisis just weeks after taking office in March.

The SARS outbreak, festering in the south since November, exploded in Beijing in March. It infected 5,300 people nationwide and killed more than 340 while hammering the travel, hotel and airline industries before it was tamed in late June.

It is not Hu's first break with tradition. Leaders travelling abroad were once afforded blanket media coverage, regardless of where they were headed, and were greeted by the other top leaders on their return. Hu scrapped that, saying the media should focus on the people.

Beidaihe got its start as a resort for Western missionaries and traders to escape the summer heat in the late 19th century.

After the Communist takeover in 1949, it became a venue for leaders to relax with their families, talk in private with peers and, sometimes, launch political movements.

In 1971, army chief Lin Biao (林彪) died in a mysterious plane crash in Mongolia trying to flee the country -- the plane had taken off from Beidaihe. State media reported later that Lin, deputy and chosen successor to Mao, had plotted his patron's assassination.

The seaside meetings received scant media coverage, leaving China hands to guess when the session was taking place. Pictures of leaders bobbing in the surf would occasionally slip out.

For locals, the influx of senior leaders meant more policemen patrolling the streets, cordoned off roads and the occasional limousine with tinted windows speeding by.

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