Powerful and modern yet with a nod to past glories, the Hongqi L5 limousine appears to be the perfect vehicle for the image the Chinese government wants to project, and this the week state media reported that it has been designated an official car for a gathering of global leaders in Beijing next month.
On Tuesday, a photo of rows of the shiny black limousines — 18 feet long and outfitted with bulletproof windows — dominated the front page of The Beijing News. “Domestically produced Hongqi will take the spotlight at APEC,” the headline read, referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the Chinese capital on Nov. 5-11. People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, posted a slide show on its website featuring photos of the limousine. It listed its price at 6 million renminbi, or $980,000.
With President Xi Jinping leading a campaign promoting national pride under the rubric “The Chinese Dream,” state media coverage of the limousine is not surprising. The country’s only domestically produced luxury car will be a feature of the summit meeting, a chance to show off China’s increasing power. President Obama is slated to attend, as are the leaders of Russia, Japan and other countries among APEC’s 21 members.
The last time China hosted the APEC summit meeting was in 2001, shortly before it joined the World Trade Organization and became the world’s biggest exporter — propelling more than a decade of economic growth. Now that China is the world’s second-largest economy, its leaders have proved willing to throw some cash around to ensure this year’s meeting fully represents the country’s transformation into an economic giant and important geopolitical player.
Thirteen years ago, APEC organizers in Beijing, lacking a strong domestic contender, enlisted a fleet of Shanghai GM Buicks as the main official vehicle. Now the Hongqi L5 limousines and the Hongqi H7 sedan, both made by the FAW Car Company, will be deployed to transport delegates, the company announced earlier.
The Hongqi, which means Red Flag, is a brand that, like the People’s Republic itself, has come a long way since its beginnings in 1958. The car was once the choice for senior officials, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, but it fell into obscurity when production was shut down in the early 1980s. However, thanks to a government-led effort to encourage the growth of domestic car manufacturers, the historic brand has re-emerged, more luxurious than ever, as the official car of choice.
China has already rolled out the L5 for diplomatic events. Last year, President François Hollande of France became the first foreign leader to be transported by the L5 on a state visit. The model made its commercial debut last April at the Beijing Auto Show. According to CarNewsChina.com, the first civilian L5 was sold at the show to a Chinese businessman for 4.9 million renminbi, about $800,000.
In preparation for the APEC meeting, the Beijing government has enacted a range of other measures to impress delegates and ensure the meeting goes seamlessly.
The city’s transportation authorities announced this month that residents would have to adhere to an odd-even license plate control system to alleviate traffic jams. The city is also allowing workers at some government offices to take Nov. 7-12 off and will deploy 400 more buses to further reduce commuting pressures, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.
And to add to the glamour of the occasion, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday that motorcycle escorts for the motorcades of visiting foreign leaders would resume, after a 10-year hiatus.