China’s leader Xi Jinping could stay in power indefinitely under proposed changes to the country’s constitution.
China’s ruling Communist Party has proposed scrapping the ten-year term limit for the President, in a move almost certain to be written into the country’s constitution in March.
The precedent-breaking change would allow the 64-year-old to continue as both the head of state and the more senior title of Communist Party General Secretary beyond 2023.
He is also the Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission — a title, like that of Communist Party chief, that does not have a term limit.
According to China’s state media, the Communist Party’s main leadership group — the Central Committee — proposed the amendment, along with writing Mr Xi’s ideology into the country’s constitution.
Given that the Communist Party allows no opposition parties and suppresses dissenting political voices, the proposal is expected to be passed by China’s rubber-stamp Parliament in early March.
In the aftermath of the announcement, thousands of web users posted supportive comments on the highly censored Weibo social media platform, but some voiced careful criticism.
Some users of the more popular WeChat platform posted sarcastic responses to the news in private discussion groups.
WeChat advised users they temporarily could not change their profile photos or usernames — a measure last used during the Communist Party’s Congress last year.
“Especially in the period from 2020 to 2035 — which is a crucial stage for China to basically realise socialist modernisation — China and the CPC need a stable, strong and consistent leadership,” a professor from the Communist Party School, Su Wei, was quoted by the Global Times, a Communist Party media platform.
The same publication said in an editorial the constitutional change “doesn’t mean that the Chinese president will have a lifelong tenure”.
“I’m not surprised but I’m angry,” said Dr Feng Chongyi, a Chinese political specialist at the University of Technology in Sydney.
“All of the major political reform achievements have been eliminated by him [Xi].
“He can dismiss anyone. He can jail anyone. He can make a lot of new laws. He has much greater power than Vladimir Putin.”
Last year, Mr Xi foreshadowed the change by declining to appoint a younger successor during a major Communist Party reshuffle.
The move broke norms established over the past twenty years but not party rules.
Previously, paramount leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping maintained their supreme authority even as others filled the Head of State positions, but Mr Xi has made international diplomacy a major pillar of his leadership, possibly reflecting a desire to hold on to the presidency title.
“Is it a sign of strength? Maybe not, because to gain all these powers mostly indicates a desire to centralise and control everything at a time when lots of things can’t be controlled,” said Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute, King’s College in London.
“I think this is a sign of not leaving anything to chance, but is it creating a system that’s too brittle to withstand external impacts without fracturing?”