The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, already considered the country’s most dominant since Mao Zedong, looks to have further cemented his grip on power after Beijing unveiled plans to scrap the presidency’s two-term limit.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, announced the dramatic news on Sunday in a bland 36-word dispatch. It paves the way for Xi to remain in power well into the next decade and perhaps even beyond.
The report said the Communist party’s 205-member central committee had proposed China’s constitution be modified so that it no longer contained a section stipulating that the president and vice-president “shall serve no more than two consecutive [five-year] terms”.
Jude Blanchette, an expert in Chinese politics from New York’s Conference Board research group, said: “It’s amazing. I just did not think this was possible. I just thought it was way too aggressive and bold [a move] and unnecessarily so.
“It’s an unequivocal signal that Xi Jinping has designs to stay on past 2023. I don’t think there is any other way to read it other than the four-decade long project that Deng Xiaoping initiated to set hard term limits on power to make sure that a Mao figure never came back is being dismantled.
“You just need to look a few thousand miles to the west in Russia to see what this potentially looks like.”
Bill Bishop, the publisher of the Sinocism newsletter on Chinese politics, said: “This is Putin-plus.
“It means that so long as Xi is alive and the Communist party of China is in power then Xi is going to be the most powerful man in China. And unlike Mao he is going to be the most powerful man at a time when China is at its most powerful point in several hundred years and is only getting more powerful.”
Steve Tsang, the director of the Soas China Institute, said: “It means what it says on the tin. It’s now official that he’s not going to stand down … welcome to Xi Jinping’s brave new era.
“The message [from Xi] is: ‘I can do it, I will do it, don’t even think about challenging it!’”
The growing supremacy of Xi, 64, who took power in late 2012, was underlined in a second Xinhua report that announced a body of political philosophy bearing his name, Xi Jinping Thought, would also be written into China’s constitution. The philosophy was added to the Communist party’s charter last October, a move experts said effectively anointed Xi as China’s most powerful leader since Mao, who ruled between 1949 and his death in 1976.
Blanchette said it was impossible to see the central committee’s proposal not being green-lit by China’s parliament, the national people’s congress, when it convened early next month. “I think that’s about as likely as me winning an Olympic gold medal,” Blanchette said.
However, Xi faced an extraordinarily complex set of domestic and international challenges, including increasingly fraught US-China relations, the North Korean crisis and China’s own economic situation.
“It’s still premature to say Xi Jinping has become some Sun God emperor who will stay on for life, because a lot of that depends on what China looks like in 2020 and 2021,” Blanchette said.
“But I think barring anything catastrophic … I think it’s a pretty good bet to say that Xi Jinping is going to be the dominant force in Chinese politics for at least the next decade.”
Joshua Wong, the Hong Kong pro-democracy leader, said the news confirmed the onset of “the era of Emperor Xi”.
Tsang predicted that Xi would now remain in power “for as long as he wants to or feels he needs to”. “As long as he enjoys sufficiently good health he will stay on.”