Xi Jinping: Grabbing power possibly for life cannot but be dangerous

There is proposal of China’s Communist to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office. Is this “Xi Forever” change (or Xi a least for a long time) and what does it tell us about the current Chinese politics? Read few comments.

President Xi Jinping: Credit: http://english.gov.cn/

Pradeep Taneja, Lecturer, School of Social and Political Sciences, Associate, Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies University of Melbourne

Although not entirely unexpected, the move by the CCP to amend article 79.3 of the PRC constitution is a significant move which is designed to further consolidate Xi Jinping’s hold on power. The removal of the two term limit is indicative of Xi’s desire to stay on in power beyond 2023 to make sure his vision for China is implemented according to his wishes. Xi has launched a series of ambitious programmes since he came to power which are designed to establish China as a leading world power. However, the future of his flagship Belt and Road Initiative is looking uncertain as China comes to terms with the challenges of implementing its plans outside its own sovereign territories. There is also growing domestic scepticism about the wisdom of spending so much public money on projects of doubtful value. So Xi Jinping would like to stay on in power till he has implemented his ambitious agenda. But the proposed constitutional changes are not necessarily indicative of Xi’s strength and may in fact reflect the fears of a pushback within the party against his grand plans and style of leadership. Even Mao Zedong was not immune to criticism within the party despite his ruthless purges and elimination of his adversaries.

Vida Macikenaite, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of International Relations, International University of Japan

The proposal by the Communist Party of China (CCP) Central Committee to revise the State Constitution removing the clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office is indeed a very significant point in Chinese politics. On the one hand, ever since Xi Jinping has taken over the leadership, there have been speculations that he would likely revise established rules and strengthen his leadership. And he has surely done so, earning the reputation of the strongest Chinese leader for decades. For example, he has persecuted the highest-ranking party officials for corruption, although there was an unwritten rule not to do so. On the other hand, the proposal for constitutional amendment revealed yesterday would be a turning point in the sense that it goes further than any other changes implemented so far. After Deng Xiaoping consolidated his leadership in China a few years after the Mao Zedong’s death, there have been continuous efforts to institutionalize leadership transition in China. Setting a two-term limit was the core of this, that is, a leader is a leader but within certain boundaries pre-agreed by the elites. Xi Jinping seems to be stretching these boundaries.

However, having said this, I must add one more important point. It is the party who rules China not the state institutions. The current proposal applies to the posts of the president and vice-president. That is to say, it is a less significant change when considering that the term limits for the most senior party officials (e.g. Politburo members) would be lifted. And yet, this might cause significant obstacles for smooth power transition in late 2022 and early 2023. Over the last decades, the common practice has been that the top leader holds three posts – the highest ones in the party, state and the military – General Secretary of the CCP, the President and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. The proposed constitutional change announced yesterday seems to be a revision of this practice, which will likely complicate governance of China later on, since there will likely be no full transition from the fifth generation of leadership (the current one under Xi Jinping) to the sixth one.

While it is hard to answer your questions in a nutshell, the proposed revision definitely marks an important point in Chinese politics, when the current leadership may overstay their designated term. It seems that Xi Jinping came to power having a very specific agenda for China and possibly he will not like to leave before he makes sure that necessary reforms are implemented properly. In China under Xi Jinping we have been watching authoritarian regime strengthening. But it is hard to say whether this makes the regime stronger – the major reason why leadership transition was institutionalized since Deng Xiaoping was because historically it has proved to be the most vulnerable period for the party and now these institutionalized rules are being dismantled.

Colin MackerrasEmeritus Professor, Griffith University

My reaction is mixed. It is not necessarily a bad thing. I think Xi needs time to further the anti-corruption campaign. I also think he’s doing a good job on the whole and has very widespread support from ordinary Chinese people.

On the other hand, grabbing power for a longer time and possibly for life cannot but be dangerous. It shows one person is trying to dominate everything. History has examples of good rulers who lasted a long time but it also shows people who turn into tyrants if their power is too unlimited.

I still trust and respect Xi but power without restrictions is dangerous.

Takashi Suzuki, Associate Professor, Department of Chinese Studies, Aichi Prefectural University

1) current situation of CCP elite politics
Since 19th CCP Congress in the last year, Xi Jinping has had official power and authority by which he can make the final decision over almost all political issues by himself. And, from the point of view of the factional politics, Xi is now dominating in the CCP Central Political Bureau. Nobody equals him in power in the Bureau.

2) removing a constitutional limit over the presidential terms
In the current situation, I think, Xi is determined to keep his top leader position regardless of its name, e. g., the President of the PRC, the General Secretary of the CCP, or the Party Chairman like Mao Zedong. I can’t tell you now whether or not Xi’s desire will be realized, because he has not yet enough political or economical achievements to do so.

3) China’s political future
If Xi will be able to be a top leader after 2023, he can’t be the supreme existence like Mao Zedong. Chinese society in the present time will never permit the revival of the Maoism or the Cultural Revolution(1966-1976).

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