China launches propaganda push for Xi after social media criticism

BEIJING - China's plan for President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely has sparked social media opposition, drawing comparisons to North Korea's ruling dynasty and charges of creating a dictator by a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist.

The social media reaction late on Sunday quickly saw China swing into a concerted propaganda push by Monday, blocking some articles and publishing pieces praising the party.

The ruling Communist Party on Sunday proposed to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office, meaning Xi, who also heads the party and the military, might never have to retire.

The proposal, which will be passed by delegates loyal to the party at next month's annual meeting of China's largely rubber stamp parliament, is part of a package of amendments to the country's constitution.

It will also add Xi's political thought to the constitution, already added to the party constitution last year, and set a legal framework for a super anti-corruption superbody, as well as more broadly strengthen the party's tight grip on power.

But it seems the party will have its work cut out trying to convince some in China, where Xi is actually very popular thanks in part to his war on graft, that the move will not end up giving Xi too much power.

"Argh, we're going to become North Korea," wrote one Weibo user, where the Kim dynasty has ruled since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded North Korea in 1948 and his family has ruled it ever since.

"We're following the example of our neighbour,' wrote another user.

The comments were removed late on Sunday evening after Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, began blocking the search term "two-term limit".

Widely read state-run newspaper the Global Times, in an editorial carried online late Sunday and published on Monday, said the change did not mean the president will stay in office forever, though it did not offer much explanation.

"Since reform and opening up, China, led by the Communist Party, has successfully resolved and will continue to effectively resolve the issue of party and national leadership replacement in a law-abiding and orderly manner," it said, referring to landmark economic reforms that begun four decades ago.

The party's official People's Daily reprinted a long article by Xinhua news agency saying most people supported the constitutional amendments, quoting a variety of people proffering support.

"The broad part of officials and the masses say that they hoped this constitutional reform is passed," it wrote.

Who's who among Beijing's new big 7

  • 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.
  • But since soaring to power in 2012, Xi has centralized authority under his own leadership with a signature anti-graft battle.
  • His political theory — “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” — was written into the Party constitution on Tuesday.
  • Li, 62, as premier has overseen China’s economy for the last five years.
  • 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, 67, heads the party’s General Office. He worked his way up from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and graduated from Hebei Normal University.
  • 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.
  • Their friendship dates back to their days working together in Hebei in the 1980s.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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 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 was formerly an academic at Shanghai’s Fudan University, specializing first in international relations and then law.
  • 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 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, 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.

The WeChat account of the People's Daily, after initially posting a flurry of positive comments under its article, then disabled the comments section completely late on Sunday. It was back again by Monday, complete with remarks lauding the party.

The overseas edition of the same paper's WeChat account removed entirely an article focusing on the term limits, replacing it with the lengthy Xinhua report summing up all the amendment proposals.

In one confusing moment for many Chinese, Xinhua initially only reported the news in English.

The decision has also unsettled some in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, where authorities have been trying to rein in a pro-democracy movement.

"This move, which would allow for a single individual to amass and accumulate political power, means that China would again have a dictator as her head of state - Xi Jinping," said Joshua Wong, one of the movement's leaders.

"The law may exist in China in form, but this just proves that the Chinese law exists to serve the individual and the party's purposes." China is likely though to see any such criticism as a plot against the party.

"Every time China deliberates on reforms and key decisions, effect on public opinion is worth pondering," the Global Times wrote. "Misinformation and external forces' meddling will affect public opinion in China."