Thursday 19 September 2019

Xi plots to make himself China's president-for-life

Chinese President Xi Jinping is determined to stay in control. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Chinese President Xi Jinping is determined to stay in control. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Neil Connor in Beijing

China's ruling Communist Party is seeking to remove a restriction on the president serving 10 years, paving the way for Xi Jinping to remain in office beyond 2023 - and perhaps for life.

The official Xinhua news agency reported the Party had proposed to "remove the expression" that the president and vice-president "shall serve no more than two consecutive terms" from the constitution.

The move would set in motion a more authoritarian future under Mr Xi and is being described by experts as confirmation Beijing has no interest in further opening up or delivering real democracy.

Steven Tsang, the director of the China Institute at SOAS, University of London said: "Democratisation was never on the agenda under the Communist Party, which is a consultative Leninist system, one that fundamentally rejects liberal democracy despite its claim that China is democratic 'with Chinese characteristics'.

"It should now be so obvious that anyone who still cannot see it must be politically blind."

Mr Xi cemented his position as the country's strongest leader since Mao Tse-tung at last October's 19th Party Congress, when he began his second term as Chinese leader.

The 64-year-old has been steadily eroding the collective model of leadership set up in China since the Cultural Revolution and the emergence of the reform era under Deng Xiaoping.

Mr Xi's presidency has seen the return of a personality cult and the targeting of political rivals and critics through a corruption crackdown and wider war on human rights.

While some observers had predicted Mr Xi might seek to break with precedent and rule beyond two terms - which would usually have ended in 2023 - many expressed shock at the announcement.

Prof Tsang said many experts had expected Mr Xi to remain as China's 'behind the scenes' leader, but give up the role of president.

He could have continued as General Secretary of the Communist Party and chief of China's military, leaving a ceremonial president in place.

Presidents Li Xiannian (1983-88) and Yang Shangkun (1988-93) were largely symbolic figures before Jiang Zemin assumed power.

"The implication is that the vanity dimension seems to stand out," said Prof Tsang. "Xi wants to be formally received and treated as state president wherever he travels post-2022."

Mr Xi is nine months younger than Russian leader Vladimir Putin and will be 69 in 2023.

Mao ruled China until 1976, when he died aged 82.

Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao - Mr Xi's predecessors - served two five-year terms, but there had been signs the current ruler might break with tradition.

No clear successor emerged at the party congress with the unveiling of a new seven-member Standing Committee, China's top ruling body.

Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat in China and author of 'CEO China: The Rise of Xi Jinping', said Beijing's decision to signal Mr Xi's continued rule suggested China was determined to be "the winner" on the global stage.

Mr Brown said: "I wouldn't interpret this as too much a sign of strength, more one further indication that the Xi leadership will do anything - repeat, anything - to ensure China is completely assured of finally being restored as a great power.

"So leadership changes and things like that will be treated with absolute micro-management, and the elite positions are unlikely to shift much.

"This is just a sign of how high the stakes are.

"With an ailing and declining US, and Europe just muddling on, China is determined finally to be a winner. You don't change the jockey on a winning horse half way through a race." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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