Beijing's Communist Party leaders are gathering in the northeastern coastal resort of Beidaihe to discuss the makeup of the most powerful decision-making body in China.
Their focus is the next lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Beidaihe, on the Bohai Sea coast, traditionally serves as a summer retreat for China's elite.
The unofficial meeting is being held in the run-up to a Communist Party National Congress in autumn that will reshuffle the party's top leadership.
The outcome of the meeting will determine what influence outgoing President Hu Jintao, also general secretary of the party, will retain after Xi Jinping, currently vice president and his likely successor, assumes the top post.
The People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist Party, reported Aug. 6 that Xi met with scientists in Beidaihe the previous day.
It said that Xi was joined by Li Yuanchao, head of the party’s Organization Department, and Liu Yandong, a state councilor. Both of them are seen as likely candidates to become Politburo Standing Committee members.
Also attending was Ling Jihua, chief of the General Office of the Central Committee and a likely candidate for Politburo member.
The presence of so many powerful people was a clear sign that top party officials are gathering at the resort.
According to Communist Party sources, incumbent leaders and former Standing Committee members under former President Jiang Zemin have been converging on Beidaihe since Aug. 3.
At the Beidaihe meeting, all eyes are on the battle for posts on the Politburo Standing Committee. The number of the members was increased from seven to nine when Hu's leadership was decided in 2002.
However, there have been calls within the party to trim back the number to seven under the next administration.
The sources said Hu favors a seven-member committee.
According to sources at the party’s Organization Department and the Central Committee Party School, the increase in Standing Committee members weakened the party's Secretariat of the Central Committee, which serves as general headquarters for policy because it deals with day-to-day decisions by advising the general secretary.
As a result, decision-making now takes more time and the clout of the general secretary has been weakened, observers said.
A reformist political scholar said: "The number of the Standing Committee members will indicate to what extent Hu controls the party. The dynamics in the party will affect the Standing Committee lineup."
Put on the list for the trimming are the secretary of the Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs of the Central Committee, who was elevated to a Standing Committee member in 2002, and a Standing Committee member in charge of ideology and publicity.
In particular, the secretary who presides over the police and judiciary now has too much power, an Organization Department source said.
One idea being floated is to lower the status to Politburo member and putting the post under the supervision of the general secretary.
However, many party and diplomatic sources say that strong resistance to a seven-person team means that the final tally will settle at nine.
Reducing the number of posts would lead to difficulty in achieving coordination among various factions within the party, they said.
The sources expressed doubts about whether Hu has enough power to trim back the membership.
Observers believe that Xi and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, both of whom became Politburo Standing Committee members at the previous party congress, will retain their seats.
As for the remaining seats, there likely will be jockeying between a force backed by the Communist Youth League, to which President Hu belonged, and one led by former President Jiang.
Xi's wishes are unlikely to go ignored.
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