China’s presidential term abolished as analysts question motive

China’s presidential term abolished as analysts question motive

12/03/18

Luke Foddy, Communications Manager

Changes to China’s constitution enabling President Xi Jinping to stay on indefinitely were approved yesterday (Sunday), prompting fears of a return to ‘one-man rule’, the Financial Times reports.

Delegates in China’s parliament voted 99.79 per cent in favour of abolishing presidential term limits, introduced in 1982 to prevent a return to personal rule and the chaos experienced under Mao, the Straits Times reports.

However, while analysts agree that the changes are more than a simple power grab by President Xi, there are differing theories about their ultimate aim.

In practice, constitutional change would not be necessary for President Xi to remain in power, given that the he holds the more important roles of party secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission – which have no term limit.

Instead, the amendment is about settling the enduring question of supremacy between the Communist Party and the state, according to the South China Morning Post.

‘The challenges China faces today require not just a strong leader but also a unified and strong ruling party. These revisions will bring an end to the debate over whether the party is above the state,’ the Post reports.

Business Insider Australia, meanwhile, identifies fears of a factional divide within the Party – the result of Xi’s anti-corruption drive – as a key motive.

However, other commentators point to foreign relations as the driver for the change.

Under President Xi, China has struck a more assertive pose on the world stage, with the landmark Belt and Road Initiative promising to secure its global influence. To see ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ through will require China’s leader to remain a member of the global community – which the title of President buys him.

‘The political mantra in Beijing is that only Xi’s leadership can allow the Asian giant to become a global superpower by 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China,’ Asia Times reports.

Despite the global interest in the constitutional development, state media outlet Xinhua played down the amendment. Reference to the landmark shift was buried in an article focusing on the enshrining of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ – ‘the fundamental theoretical guide for the historic achievements and shifts made in the cause of the Party and the country since the 18th CPC National Congress,’ – into the constitution.

A line in the 18th paragraph states: ‘A revision to a clause concerning the Chinese President and Vice President’s terms of office was also incorporated.’