Chinese Communist Party to scrap presidential term limits; Xi likely to remain in charge

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee has proposed to remove term limits for president and vice president in a move that may extend current President Xi Jingping’s rule longer than his current five-year term, his second.

Chinese state media reported that the Central Committee is proposing to remove from the constitution the phrase “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.”

The announcement came ahead of a meeting of the Central Committee.

Xi, the general-secretary of the Central Committee, was appointed to his second term late last year; it is currently set to expire in 2022. Many analysts believe, however, that he wishes to remain in office longer.

He had stressed the important role of the constitution on Saturday.

“No organization or individual has the power to overstep the constitution or the law,” Xinhua, in a separate report, quoted Xi as saying during a Central Committee Politburo meeting Saturday.

According to Japanese media:

At a Central Committee plenary session in January, party leaders decided on a plan to write Xi’s guiding principle into the constitution at the National People’s Congress scheduled for next month. Xi will also be formally elected to his second term at the annual meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament, which opens March 5.

The principle, entitled “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” was added to the Communist Party’s constitution last year.

The country’s constitution was first adopted in 1982 and has not been amended since 2004. Speculation that Xi might seek to stay in office past his mandate has hit a fever pitch since he unveiled a new leadership line-up in October that didn’t include a clear possible heir. [source]

Analysis: This is significant. The Central Committee appears to have decided that Xi, the son of a famed Communist Party veteran who is known as a “princeling,” is the man to lead China into what they (and Xi) believe is the country’s well-deserved future status as global leader.

Other analysts are interpreting this move as Communist Party weakness. They see a party lacking in confidence to oppose a popular president who has spent his entire first term shoring up support within the system and consolidating power to a degree not seen since the founder of the modern Chinese communist state, Mao Zedong.

While that may be true, what is undeniable is that Xi will become the most powerful figure in Chinese politics in two generations, as evidenced by the fact that the Central Committee will also approve adding Xi’s “guiding principle” into the constitution as well. 

Chinese state media is already attempting to censor dissent and while Xi is popular due in large part to his war on corruption, he’s not universally supported. Some on Chinese social media complained that the changes would elevate Xi to dictator status like Kim Jong-un in North Korea. [source] So the Central Committee and Xi himself will have to walk a line between maintaining China’s rise and checking creeping authoritarianism to prevent dissent from growing into a movement.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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