Amid crises, Xi seems set to uphold Party’s rule at secretive China conclave

Amid crises, Xi seems set to uphold Party’s rule at secretive China conclave
By Ben Blanchard, Kevin Yao and Keith Zhai

BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China’s Communist Party leaders will on Monday start their most important meeting this year, with President Xi Jinping expected to champion the Chinese model of governance while fighting protracted economic and political crises at home and abroad.

The four-day conclave comes at a critical time, as Hong Kong grapples with anti-government protests for the fourth month, drawing Western criticism of Beijing for trampling on the rights and liberties of Hong Kong people in its handling of the violent demonstrations.

China’s economy is also growing at its slowest pace in nearly three decades, hurt in part by a prolonged trade war with the United States. Stable growth has been fundamental to the Party’s political legitimacy.

It is key for Beijing to use the occasion to cast the Chinese political system as meritocratic, unchallengeable and superior to Western democracy, said Wang Jiangyu, director of the Asian Law Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Party leaders have repeatedly warned that without Communist rule, China would descend into chaos and fall prey to hostile Western powers. In September, Xi said China was entering a period of “concentrated risks” – economic, political and diplomatic – and the country must be ready to fight.

“China’s Party-state wants to show that its political system is more attractive overseas, and others should stop their finger-pointing,” Wang said.

Plenums, as such Communist Party meetings are formally called, are generally held every autumn. The upcoming plenum will be the fourth since the last Party congress in late 2017.

It is a closed-door meeting of the party’s Central Committee, which comprises about 370 people and is the largest of its elite bodies that rule China.

Some expected the fourth plenum to have been held last autumn, but it was not, sparking speculation in Beijing of disagreements at the top of the party about the direction of the country.

“The fourth plenum will implement reform plans, and they will talk about how to improve governance, which is pressing,” one Chinese policy insider told Reuters on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“They need to transform the overall state governance capacity and adapt to changes in global rules and withstand stress tests from external risks,” the insider said, adding that the trade war is exacerbating such pressures.

The Communist Party spokesman’s office did not respond to a request for comment on what would be on the plenum’s agenda.

IDEOLOGY

Policy insiders say the trade war, China’s slowing economy and Hong Kong will be discussed, even if there is no direct mention of them in the final closing communique, released by state news agency Xinhua once the meetings have ended.

Two Chinese officials who reviewed the draft of the communique said the document was largely political and focused on ideological innovation.

Still, any ideological change may hint of new economic trajectories, because “ideology in China is never just about grand designs,” said Chucheng Feng, co-founder of GRisk, a political risk analytics firm based in Hong Kong.

“It is deeply linked to reform and the economy,” Feng said.

China’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 6% in the third quarter. But U.S. President Trump said this week growth was “probably minus-something”.

Chinese leaders are expected to chart the course for the economy in 2020 at a key meeting in December.

So far, China has shown no overt sign of changing or slowing its economic reforms. Notably, it has embarked on a long-term upgrade of its industries and modernisation of its technological capabilities while moving away from low-end and polluting manufacturing.

But to appease U.S. demands for greater access to Chinese markets, Beijing has pledged open its markets and roll out some relatively pain-free reforms such as new rules next year meant to make it easier for companies to do business in China.

RESHUFFLES

The Party will also look ahead to the next congress in 2022 at this plenum.

How exactly Xi’s continuation of power will be handled after presidential term limits were removed last year will be the “elephant in the room” at the plenum, one senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“It’s unclear exactly what will happen in 2022,” the diplomat said.

One title Xi still does not hold is party chairman, and since the last party congress there has been speculation he could seek to resurrect the position.

Xi is the party’s general secretary, but not its chairman, a title Mao Zedong and his two successors, Hua Guofeng and Hu Yaobang, both held.

Xi also has no obvious successor.

But diplomats and leadership sources says several senior leaders could be in contention, most notably three people close to Xi: Shanghai party general-secretary Li Qiang, Chongqing party boss Chen Miner, and Guangdong party boss Li Xi.

The party has also lined up younger officials, born in the 1970s, from which it can choose the country’s next generation of leaders. Party bosses could spend the next few years promoting them to key regional positions as governors, ministers, or their equivalent.

Some of the notable young officials include 48-year-old Zhuge Yujie, general-secretary of the Party Committee of Shanghai; 49-year-old Shi Guanghui, who oversees political and legal affairs in Guizhou; and 46-year-old Guangxi deputy governor Yang Jinbai, according to leadership sources and experts.

(Reporting by Kevin Yao and Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Keith Zhai in Singapore; Editing by Ryan Woo and Gerry Doyle)

Trump says likely won’t sign China trade deal until he meets with Xi

Trump says likely won’t sign China trade deal until he meets with Xi
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he likely would not sign any trade deal with China until he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming APEC Forum in Chile.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said the partial trade deal announced last week was in the process of being formalized.

“It’s being papered,” he said.

Trump, Xi and other heads of state are expected to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum being held in Santiago from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17.

Last week, Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He announced the first phase of a deal to end the trade war between Beijing and Washington but did not offer many details.

China wants more talks as soon as the end of October to hammer out the details of the “phase one” pact, according to a Bloomberg report on Monday that cited people familiar with the matter.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Makini Brice; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Toby Chopra and Chris Reese)

As Hong Kong braces for protests, Chinese paramilitary holds drills across border

Chinese soldiers walk in formation on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen across the bay from Hong Kong, China August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Farah Master

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong braced on Thursday for more mass demonstrations through the weekend, as China again warned against foreign interference in the city’s escalating crisis and as mainland paramilitary forces conducted exercises just across the border.

Western governments, including the United States, have stepped up calls for restraint, following ugly and chaotic scenes at the city’s airport this week, which forced the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights and saw protesters set upon two men they suspected of being government sympathizers.

Military vehicles are parked on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Military vehicles are parked on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The airport, one of the world’s busiest, was returning to normal but under tight security after thousands of protesters had jammed its halls on Monday and Tuesday nights, part of a protest movement Beijing has likened to terrorism.

Across a bridge linking Hong Kong’s rural hinterland with the booming mainland city of Shenzhen, hundreds of members of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police conducted exercises at a sports complex in what was widely seen as a warning to protesters in Hong Kong.

The police could be seen carrying out crowd-control exercises, and more than 100 dark-painted paramilitary vehicles filled the stadium’s parking lots.

Chinese state media had first reported on the exercises on Monday, prompting U.S. concerns they could be used to break up the protests. However, several western and Asian diplomats in Hong Kong told Reuters Beijing has little appetite for putting the PAP or the People’s Liberation Army onto Hong Kong’s streets.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent confrontations between police and protesters have plunged Hong Kong into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, and police tactics have been toughening.

The protests represent the biggest populist challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 and show no immediate signs of abating.

Late on Wednesday night, police and protesters faced off again on the streets of the financial hub, with riot officers quickly firing tear gas.

Seventeen people were arrested on Wednesday, bringing the total detained since June to 748, police told a news conference, adding that police stations have been surrounded and attacked 76 times during the crisis.

TRUMP AND TRADE DEAL

U.S. President Donald Trump tied a U.S.-China trade deal to Beijing resolving the unrest “humanely”, and suggested he was willing to meet Xi to discuss the crisis.

“I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi (Jinping) wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?” Trump said on Twitter.

The U.S. State Department said it was deeply concerned over reports that Chinese police forces were gathering near the border with Hong Kong and urged the city’s government to respect freedom of speech.

It also issued a travel advisory urging U.S. citizens to exercise caution in Hong Kong. China has frequently warned against what it regards as outside interference in an internal issue.

Other foreign governments urged calm. France called on city officials to renew talks with activists, while Canada said China should handle the protests with tact.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized million-strong marches in June, has scheduled another protest for Sunday.

The protesters have five demands, including the complete withdrawal of a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in mainland Chinese courts.

Opposition to the extradition bill has developed into wider concerns about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place after Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

RECESSION FEARS

It was not yet clear whether the airport clashes had eroded the broad support the movement has so far attracted in Hong Kong, despite adding to the city’s faltering economy.

The protests could push Hong Kong into a recession, research firm Capital Economics said, and risked “an even worse outcome if a further escalation triggers capital flight”.

Hong Kong’s property market, one of the world’s most expensive, would be hit hard in that scenario, it added.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan unveiled a series of measures worth HK$19.1 billion ($2.44 billion) on Thursday to tackle economic headwinds, but he said it was not related to political pressure from the protests.

Business and citizens’ groups have been posting full-page newspaper advertisements that denounce the violence and back Hong Kong’s government.

The head of Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment, Lui Che-woo, urged talks to restore harmony. The protests have affected the neighboring Chinese territory of Macau, with some visitors avoiding the world’s biggest gambling hub amid transport disruptions and safety concerns.

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, Noah Sin, Kevin Liu and Twinnie Siu in HONG KONG, David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay in WASHINGTON, Mathieu Rosemain in PARIS, and David Ljunggren in OTTAWA; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

Hong Kong protesters smash up legislature in direct challenge to China

Anti-extradition bill protesters use the flashlights from their phones as they march during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By John Ruwitch and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters stormed the legislature on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to China on Monday, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti in a direct challenge to China as anger over an extradition bill spiraled out of control.

Some carried road signs, others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding upstairs and downstairs as about a thousand gathered around the Legislative Council building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district.

Some sat at legislators’ desks, checking their phones, while others scrawled “Withdraw anti-extradition” on walls.

The government called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year.

There was no immediate response from the protesters, although some appeared to retreat as the evening wore on.

A small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave.

The council, the mini-parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately.

It did not say what would happen if they didn’t but police did not immediately intervene.

The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement canceling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security consideration”.

Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.

Banners hanging over flyovers at the protest site read: “Free Hong Kong.”

The protesters, some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas, once again paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.

It was not immediately clear that the announcement it would lapse would ease the tension.

The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

“The kind of deafness that I see in the government this time around despite these protests is really worrying. The complete disregard for the will of the people is what alarms me,” said Steve, a British lawyer show has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years.

“If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong.”

Opponents of the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.

Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.

China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation. Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong any more and was opposed to its “gesticulating” about the territory.

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

THOUSANDS RALLY

Tens of thousands marched in temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F) from Victoria Park in an annual rally. Many clapped as protesters held up a poster of Lam inside a bamboo cage. Organizers said 550,000 turned out. Police said there were 190,000 at their peak.

More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger.

A tired-looking Lam appeared in public for the first time in nearly two weeks, before the storming of the legislature, flanked by her husband and former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.

“The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” she said. “This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiment accurately.”

PROTEST MOVEMENT REINVIGORATED

Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong has intensified markedly since Xi took power and after pro-democracy street protests that gripped the city in 2014 but failed to wrestle concessions from China.

Tensions spiraled on June 12 when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters near the heart of the city, sending plumes of smoke billowing among some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

The uproar has reignited a protest movement that had lost steam after the failed 2014 demonstrations that led to the arrests of hundreds.

Activists raised a black bauhinia flag to half-mast outside the Legislative Council building before the rally and turned Hong Kong’s official flag, featuring a white bauhinia flower on a red background, upside down.

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for Beijing, which is grappling with a trade dispute with the United States, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.

Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill has spooked some Hong Kong tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers familiar with the details.

(Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Alun John, Vimvam Tong, Thomas Peter, David Lague, Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree, Sharon Lam, Donny Kwok, Joyce Zhou, Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Trump talks North Korea threat in calls with China, Japan leaders

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping chat as they walk along the front patio of the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 7,

By Jeff Mason

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (Reuters) – The threat posed by North Korea was a key topic in phone calls between U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of China and Japan, along with trade issues, the White House said on Sunday.

Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of expected meetings with the leaders of Asia’s two biggest economies at a Group of 20 nations summit in Germany later this week.

“Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” the White House said of Trump’s call with Xi from his resort property in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where he is spending a long weekend.

“President Trump reiterated his determination to seek more balanced trade relations with America’s trading partners,” it added.

Trump has become increasingly frustrated with China’s inability to rein in North Korea, and the reference to trade was an indication the one-time New York businessman may be ready to return to his tougher-talking ways on business with Beijing after holding back in hopes it would put more pressure on Pyongyang.

Trump and Xi discussed the “peace and stability of the Korean peninsula”, China’s Foreign Ministry said, without elaborating.

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang later told a daily briefing that the United States was “very clear” about China’s position on North Korea. Geng did not elaborate on what Xi told Trump about North Korea.

“Negative factors” have affected Sino-U.S. relations, and China has already expressed its position to the United States, Xi told Trump, according to a read-out of a telephone call between the leaders carried by the ministry.

 

ONE CHINA POLICY

The ministry said Trump told Xi the U.S. government would continue to follow a “one China” policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it, and that this position had not changed.

China pays great attention to that reiteration and hopes the United States can “appropriately handle” the Taiwan issue, Xi told Trump, according to the ministry.

On Thursday, the United States targeted a Chinese bank and sanctioned Chinese individuals and a firm for dealing with North Korea and approved a $1.42 billion arms deal with Taiwan – decisions that angered Beijing.

And on Sunday a U.S. warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by China, drawing a rebuke from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Trump’s separate conversations with the two Asian leaders followed White House talks with South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, last week in which the U.S. leader called on Asian powers to implement sanctions and demand North Korea “choose a better path and do it quickly.”

 

TRILATERAL SUMMIT

Trump and Abe, in their call, reiterated their commitment to increase pressure on North Korea.

“They reaffirmed that the United States-Japan Alliance stands ready to defend and respond to any threat or action taken by North Korea,” the White House said in a statement.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the two countries and South Korea will have a trilateral summit at the G20 meeting, but he didn’t want to speculate on what might be said there.

“It’s important for these three nations to show their strong unity and cooperation both within and without,” Suga said. “Things such as strengthening pressure on North Korea or urging China to fulfill even more of a role. Things like this have been agreed on before as well.”

Trump, who held talks with Abe earlier this year at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, has forged a united front with the Japanese leader on the need to exert pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile development.

During and after a Florida summit with Xi in April at Mar-a-Lago, Trump praised his Chinese counterpart for agreeing to work on the North Korea issue and has held back on attacking Chinese trade practices he railed against during the presidential campaign.

But Trump has recently suggested he was running out of patience with China’s modest steps to pressure North Korea, which is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States, and has been considering moving ahead on trade actions.

Trump has been weighing new quotas or tariffs on steel imports for national security reasons and plans to discuss his concerns at the G20. Washington sees excess global production capacity, particularly in China, administration officials say.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in New Jersey, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Takaya Yamaguchi in Tokyo; Editing by Bill Tarrant)