Thursday 16 August 2018

China removes online criticism of plan to extend Xi’s rule

Political observers fear that moves to extend the Chinese premier’s powers will return Beijing to an era of one-man rule.

Chinese President Xi Jinping could extend his grip on power as the Chinese parliament looks at removing two-term limits for presidents (AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping could extend his grip on power as the Chinese parliament looks at removing two-term limits for presidents (AP)

By Christopher Bodeen

Chinese censors have acted quickly to remove satirical commentary online about the ruling Communist Party’s move to enable President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

The move comes as political observers weigh the possibility that China will return to an era of one-man rule.

One day after the party announced a proposed constitutional change to be approved next month, Chinese internet users found themselves unable to signal approval or disapproval by changing their profiles. Key search topics such as “serve another term” were censored.

Nevertheless, social media users shared images of Winnie the Pooh hugging a jar of honey along with the quote: “Find the thing you love and stick with it.”

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Memorabilia featuring Mr Xi are displayed at a souvenir shop in Beijing (AP)

The Disney bear’s image has been compared to President Xi Jinping, prompting periodic blocks on the use of Pooh pictures online.

Other online commenters wrote: “Attention, the vehicle is reversing” — an automated announcement used by Chinese delivery vehicles — suggesting that China is returning to the era of former dictator Mao Zedong or even imperial rule.

Another widely-circulated comment played on the intense pressure young Chinese often face from their parents to marry and produce grandchildren.

“My mother told me that I have to get married during Xi Dada’s presidential term,” it said, using a reference for Xi typically translated as “Big Uncle Xi”.

“Now I can finally breathe a long sigh of relief,” the post read.

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The plans to extend Mr Xi's rule have echoes of Mao (AP)

Not all the censored posts were critical of the proposal to eliminate term limits. Some users pointed out that countries like Germany and Canada also do not have term limits for their leaders, while others simply commented on news of the announcement with: “Witnessing history.”

The country’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, is all but certain to pass the amendment when it meets for its annual session early next month. Under the 1982 constitution, the president is limited to two five-year terms in office, but Mr Xi — already China’s most powerful leader since Mao — appears to want additional terms to see through his agenda of fighting corruption, eliminating poverty and transforming China into a modern leading nation by the mid-century.

Or, some have speculated, he may simply wish to retain near-absolute power for as long as possible.

Xi has made robust diplomacy and a muscular military posture in the South China Sea and elsewhere a hallmark of his style of rule and more can be expected in coming years, experts said.

In terms of trade relations with the US, entrenched differences between the world’s number one and number two economies will likely remain, said James Zimmerman, former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

Mr Xi’s rule has been characterised by a relentless crackdown on critics and independent civil society voices such as lawyers netted in a sweeping crackdown on legal activists that began in July 2015. Joseph Cheng, a long-time observer of Chinese politics now retired from the City University of Hong Kong, said that following the passage of the constitutional amendment: “There will be even less tolerance of criticism.”

Press Association

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