China sets stage for Xi to stay in office indefinitely

REUTERS
Sunday, Feb 25, 2018
Photo: AFP

BEIJING - China's ruling Communist Party on Sunday set the stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely, with a proposal to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office.

Since taking office more than five years ago, Xi has overseen a radical shake-up of the party, including taking down top leaders once thought untouchable as part of his popular war on deep-rooted corruption.

Sunday's announcement, carried by state news agency Xinhua, gave few details. It said the proposal had been made by the party's Central Committee, the largest of its elite ruling bodies. The proposal also covers the vice president position.

Xi, 64, is currently required by China's constitution to step down as president after two five-year terms. Nearing the end of his first term, he will be formally elected to a second at the annual meeting of China's largely rubber-stamp parliament opening on March 5.

There is no limit on his tenure as the party and military chief, though a maximum 10-year term is the norm. He began his second term as head of the party and military in October at the end of a party congress held once every five years.

Zhang Lifan, a historian and political commentator, said the news was not unexpected, and it was hard to predict exactly how long Xi could stay on in power.

"In theory, he could serve longer than Mugabe but in reality, no one is sure exactly what will happen," Zhang said, referring to Zimbabwe's former president whose four decades in office ended in November after the army and his former political allies moved to force him out.

Though positive remarks filled the comments section under the pages of main state media outlets like the People's Daily, the move was not welcomed by everyone on China's Twitter-like Weibo service,

"If two terms are not enough, then they can write in a third term, but there needs to be a limit. Getting rid of it is not good!," wrote one Weibo user.

EMPEROR XI

Constitutional reform needs to be approved by parliament, which is stacked with members chosen for their loyalty to the party - meaning the reform will not be blocked.

There has been persistent speculation that Xi wants to stay on in office past the customary two five-year terms.

The October party congress ended without appointing a clear eventual successor for Xi.

However, the role of party chief is more senior than that of president. At some point, Xi could be given a party position that also enables him to stay on as long as he likes.

Xi is currently the party's general secretary, but not chairman. China's first three leaders after the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 all carried the title party chairman -Mao Zedong, Hua Guofeng and then Hu Yaobang. It has not been used since.

"Whether Xi ends up being Party Chairman or just remains Party Secretary doesn't really matter. What matters is whether he holds onto power," said Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

"Titles don't matter as much in China as they do in the West. Here what matters is whether you are the emperor," he added. "In China, ordinary people already consider Xi Jinping to be the emperor."

EYES ON VICE PRESIDENT

Mao, the founder of Communist China and still held in god-like awe by many Chinese, died while still Communist Party chairman in 1976, having never retired.

State media has also increasingly been using the term "lingxiu" to refer to Xi, which means "leader". Distinct from the standard usage of "lingdao" for leader, "lingxiu" evokes grander, almost spiritual, connotations.

Mao, for example, was referred to as "lingxiu", but Xi's two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, were not.

In a Sunday commentary on its WeChat account, state television said: "The people love the people's 'lingxiu'!", above a picture of Xi being greeted by an adoring crowd in Sichuan province earlier this month.

The move to lift the presidential term limits is not unexpected. The party has been laying the groundwork for Xi not to have to go.

Source : AFP, Reuters

Xi Jinping

Xi, 64, is widely seen as China’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao Zedong. He was once viewed as a drab “princeling” child of the elite.

Xi Jinping

But since soaring to power in 2012, Xi has centralized authority under his own leadership with a signature anti-graft battle.

Xi Jinping

His political theory — “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” — was written into the Party constitution on Tuesday.

Li Keqiang

Li, 62, as premier has overseen China’s economy for the last five years.

Li Keqiang

Li’s policies have sought to spur entrepreneurship and innovation, but he has been increasingly overshadowed by Xi, who has thrown his weight behind reforms to make state sector firms “stronger, better and bigger” and to manage financial stability.

Li Zhanshu

Li, 67, heads the party’s General Office. He worked his way up from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and graduated from Hebei Normal University.

Li Zhanshu

A former governor of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and one-time party boss of the southwestern province of Guizhou, Li Zhanshu is considered one of Xi’s closest advisors and often accompanies him on overseas trips.

Li Zhanshu

Their friendship dates back to their days working together in Hebei in the 1980s.

Wang Yang

Wang, 62, is a vice premier with an economic portfolio and a former party chief of Guangdong province, an export powerhouse, where he served from 2007-2012.

Wang Yang

Born into a poor rural family in eastern Anhui province, Wang went to work in a factory at age 17 to support his family after his father died.

Wang Yang

Concerned about the impact of three decades of rapid development, he lobbied for social and political reform. However, he backed down after drawing criticism from party conservatives.

Wang Huning

Wang, 62 this month, was a top policy researcher for the party under former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, a position he has kept under Xi as head of the Central Policy Research Office.

Wang Huning

Wang coined the “Three Represents” and “Scientific Outlook of Development” — respectively Jiang and Hu’s contributions to party thought, as well as the “Chinese Dream,” Xi’s own vision.

Wang Huning

Wang was formerly an academic at Shanghai’s Fudan University, specializing first in international relations and then law.

Zhao Leji

Zhao, 60, was also named the Chinese Communist Party’s new anti-corruption chief on Wednesday. He was named vice governor of the northwestern province of Qinghai in 1994 at age 37.

Zhao Leji

Zhao spent 29 years in Qinghai before being picked by Xi to serve as party boss of Shaanxi province, in the northwest, in 2007. Both Zhao and Xi are natives of Shaanxi. Zhao heads the powerful organization department, which oversees personnel decisions, and is a Politburo member.

Han Zheng

Han, 63, is party chief of Shanghai, China’s financial hub, where he has spent his entire career. Han was briefly promoted from Shanghai mayor after the then-party boss was sacked amid a corruption scandal in 2006.

He resumed his mayoral role as Xi Jinping and then Yu Zhengsheng — currently the party’s fourth-ranked leader — became party chief.

Although it's a team in name, the Chinese president is now more powerful than he's ever been - especially as there's no clear successor to Xi in the new lineup.

In the wake of the last week's Communist Party congress, Xi now stands as China's most powerful leader in years. And he's expected to use that authority to steer the country into a position of global leadership on its own terms.

Even though Xi is holding an ever firmer grip on power, the make-up of the new Politburo Standing Committee is important as there is an official ranking in the system.

One of Xi's closest political allies, former top graft buster Wang Qishan, stepped down from the party's Standing Committee - the seven-man body that runs China - in October.

Aged 69, Wang had reached the age at which top officials tend to retire. But he has been chosen as a parliament delegate this year and is likely to become vice president, sources with ties to the leadership and diplomats say.

The move is significant because if Wang does not retire, that would set a precedent for Xi to stay on in power too after he reaches what is normally considered retirement age.

The Central Committee also proposed other changes to the country's constitution, including inserting "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" into the constitution, referring to Xi's rather wordy guiding political thought that is already in the party constitution.

The constitution will further ensure that party control over the country is not in any doubt, too, strengthening existing clauses about the leading role of the Communist Party in China.

"The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics," Xinhua cited one of the proposed new clauses as saying.

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