Steve Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist, met secretly with "the second most powerful person in China" last week during a trip to Beijing, reports the Financial Times. Wang Qishan—second only to President Xi Jinping as anti-corruption tsar within China's Community Party—met with Bannon for 90 minutes at the Chinese leadership compound, according to the report. Chinese officials reached out to Bannon—who has said the US is at "economic war" with China—to get his thoughts on economic nationalism and populist movements, sources tell FT. Bannon reportedly flew to China from Hong Kong, where he'd given a speech on the same subjects, hosted by a Chinese state-owned brokerage and investment group.
China's Foreign Ministry says it was "not familiar with" the meeting, though an analyst tells the South China Morning Post that Beijing would've wanted to keep it under wraps. Why? Wang is expected to soon leave office under informal retirement rules, but the reported meeting has fueled rumors that he will instead replace Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a party congress next month—which could explain connecting with someone who could help him navigate the US-China relationship. Wang "must have had a reason to meet Bannon, and the topic doesn't seem relevant to his current job," says a second analyst.