- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

BEIDAIHE, China The handful of elderly men who rule China are meeting this week at this seaside resort to set policy for a fifth of mankind. But there will be no public agenda, no photo opportunities and no announcement of what they decide.

Even the exact dates of their meetings are secret. Only the heavy security presence on the beach and the plethora of tinted-window limousines offer evidence that President Jiang Zemin, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and their colleagues are in town.

"It's no good at all," taxi driver Liu muttered as she navigated the police roadblocks demarcating no-go areas in this small town 190 miles east of Beijing.

"I don't care how high up the officials are. Why do they have to hide from the ordinary people and sneak around in secret?" In 40 years, the Beidaihe resident has never set eyes on the senior leaders whose armor-plated motorcades bring traffic to a standstill.

But the people are reclaiming the rest of Beidaihe, once the playground of the elite.

English railway engineers discovered the fishing village in the 1890s and it was not long before wealthy Chinese and foreign diplomats were rushing seaward to escape the summer furnaces of Beijing and Tianjin.

In the 1920s, "Chariots of Fire" Olympian Eric Liddell was a regular visitor to seaside bungalows built by the London Missionary Society.

After Mao Tse-tung led the communists to power in 1949, the new rulers also developed a taste for sea air. Sanatoriums sprang up to reward the efforts of model workers from every industry.

The vast Friendship Guesthouse was built in 1954, one of dozens across China, to receive the Soviet "elder brothers" who came to help build the New China.

"Business was good under the planned economy," said guest-house manager Hu Yunchuan, "because everything was paid for by the state. Now if an enterprise has no money, it can't send people here, and individuals with money prefer Hainan Island or Thailand. We lose a million yuan [$120,500] every year."

Mr. Hu spends several months of the year at home on half pay, as the tourism industry hibernates from November to April.

But in August, Beidaihe bustles with people and laughter, vacationers happily oblivious to the private activities of their leaders.

For sumptuous seafood and a faded European charm, diners head to the Austrian Kiesslings restaurant, where those in the know ask for "No. 1 ice cream," made specially for the visiting leaders from fresh milk and eggs.

Former Prime Minister Chou En-lai and former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping "both praised our ice cream," said the restaurant's proud proprietor. "Last year we began selling the leftovers to the people."

For many years, all that was available to the public was poor-quality frozen sugar-water to quench a summer thirst.

Only the senior leaders know what they will discuss in Beidaihe, but the battle against corruption was expected to be a major issue.

Other subjects likely to be taken up include ways to rejuvenate the Communist Party's membership and popularity, accession to the World Trade Organization, relations with Taiwan and the nagging problem of reforming state-owned enterprises.

Those, however, are just informed guesses. "The meetings are very secret," explained Mr. Hu, the guest-house manager. "We do things differently in China than other countries."

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