Beijing’s marathon guessing game nears end
By Simon Rabinovitch and Kathrin Hille in Beijing
Beijing marathon organisers, hotel receptionists and even florists all know something that the Chinese communist party has so far refused to make public: its most important political meeting in a decade will be held in the middle of October.
The party has yet to announce the date of the big occasion, when a new generation of leaders will be unveiled. But for all their efforts to maintain a cloak of secrecy over the event, officials are struggling to keep the timing under wraps.
The Beijing marathon organising committee had applied to hold the annual race on October 14 but this date was rejected, according to a representative. “We are now hoping to get approval for sometime after October 20, when the Party congress is over,” he said.
In another hint that party officials from all over China will gather next month, five-star hotels near the congress venue in central Beijing reported that they were mostly booked up for the middle of October. A receptionist at Capital Hotel, long favoured by provincial officials, said it had only a few rooms available from October 10-25.
Confirming Beijing’s worst-kept secret, government advisers say they have been told to expect the party’s 18th National Congress in mid-October.
In contrast to other countries such as the US, where political conventions are transparent affairs announced months if not years in advance, China’s ruling party and government rarely say in advance when they will hold meetings. The schedule of the annual parliament is published just days before it convenes for a brief session – usually held in March – and even Chinese leaders’ attendance at international summits is often confirmed at the last minute.
As a result there is much intrigue surrounding the leadership that will emerge at the party congress, although the two most important personnel changes are clear. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are expected to succeed, respectively, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as president and premier .
Municipal planners in Beijing are also taking steps to ensure that riffraff are kept at bay during the week-long congress.
Over the past two weeks, law enforcement squads have told restaurants they must suspend open-air service and closed down some wet markets. A market in Shilipu, in Eastern Beijing, was shut to stop farmers from coming into urban areas on their donkey carts, residents said.
Last month Beijing police began rounding up petitioners, who take their grievances to higher levels of government, and evicted them from the capital. Hotels around Beijing South railway station were warned they would be fined if they admit petitioners over the coming two months.
The party congress will be a boon to some businesses, however. One city district announced it would spend Rmb50m on flowers for the National Day holiday on October 1 and the party congress.