China's ruling elite meet in secret at Beidaihe retreat as twice-a-decade party congress looms

Delegates applaud as China's President Xi Jinping makes his way to the podium to deliver a speech at a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on August
Delegates applaud as China's President Xi Jinping makes his way to the podium to deliver a speech at a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on August 1, 2017. China will fiercely protect its sovereignty against "any people, organisation or political party", President Xi Jinping warned on August 1, as the country celebrated the 90th anniversary of its military, the People's Liberation Army.AFP

HONG KONG (Bloomberg) - Most world leaders like to spend August on vacation. Not Xi Jinping, who will host Communist Party elders at the northern Chinese beach town of Beidaihe in the coming days.

The secretive annual gathering is the last chance for the political elite to jostle over who gets promoted to top posts under Xi at the party's twice-a-decade congress this fall that will shape Chinese politics for the next 10 years.

While little is known about the discussions at Beidaihe, the disappearance of leaders from nightly newscast mentions is a clue it's under way. Sometimes details trickle out days or weeks later.

The biggest mystery is whether Xi will seek in 2022 to stay on.

Last month, China confirmed one potential successor was under investigation. If Xi pushes to stay in power past his mandated 10 years, it could spark an internal backlash and hinder his ability to carry out economic reforms.

That's crucial as China examines how to avoid the fate of Japan's epic bust in the 1990s. Economists are warning that mounting state debt could threaten the financial system, and thus the party's legitimacy. If that happens, Xi will need as many allies as possible.