China: Revolt of the Party’s Elderly Leaders ?
In Beijing, it’s the revolt of the elderly! Those who have led the Communist Party, these former leaders who presided over and orchestrated China’s rise to power until Xi’s accession, are now demanding accountability.
It has recently come to light that they gathered in late August in the Hebei Province, specifically in the coastal city of Beidaihe, and formalized and clarified their grievances to the current leaders in power. These summits of past and present Party leaders – and therefore of the country – are regular and held strictly in secret. However, this is the first time that dissent has leaked to the public, as this conclave of former leaders who were either deposed or forced into retirement seems deeply concerned about the situation in China. In unison, criticisms were directed at Xi, who until now was not accustomed to being questioned and appears to have been caught off guard or at least destabilized.
A few days after Beidaihe, an important forum is missed on the sidelines of the BRICS, where Xi’s speech is read on his behalf by his Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao. Furthermore, for the first time since coming to power in 2012, he is absent from a G20 summit, an organization he considers crucial.
Indirectly related to the meetings of the elderly in Beidaihe, which do not involve taking stock of the country, Xi’s absences can be explained first by his reluctance to answer the inevitable questions from foreign leaders and journalists about China’s economic underperformance. Xi cannot afford to lose face and justify a stagnation not experienced on this scale since the 1970s, nor can he publicly admit the collapse of foreign investments in his country. He cannot acknowledge the debacle of a massive real estate market that was the backbone of citizens’ prosperity, nor the mass unemployment affecting young Chinese, which led to the outright suspension of this statistic’s publication last summer. It is also impossible for the undisputed Chinese leader not to be questioned about the disappearance of Qin Gang, the short-lived Minister of Foreign Affairs who vanished one moonless night, or about the purge in early August of two crucial generals in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force.
The sharp criticisms and probing questions were abundant at this meeting of the elderly in Beidaihe, pushing Xi to his limits, even questioning the leadership of his three predecessors: Deng Xiaoping, Jiang, and Hu. One thing is certain: his absence from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Council meeting in San Francisco in November would be clear evidence of the very complicated position he finds himself in today.
How can we not draw a connection between the discontent expressed by the former Party cadres and the public reappearance of Li Keqiang just days after Beidaihe? Li Keqiang, who served as the Premier and number 2 for 10 years until his fall from grace last March, is now leading the official Chinese delegation to the G20, and he appeared with a smile on social media sites that were promptly censored by the authorities. It’s worth noting that Xi himself recently pushed Li out.
Can the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in Beidaihe provoke a tornado in Beijing?
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