Last Sunday, Xinhua, a state-run Chinese news agency, announced that “the Communist Party of China Central Committee proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice President of the People’s Republic of China ‘shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’ from the country’s Constitution.”
As one of the most noticeable amendments to the Chinese constitution in recent years, the removal of term limit has caused discussion worldwide. There are considerable worries and dissent regarding this decision and Xi’s progressive power grab.
According to the New York Times, “having cast aside presidential term limits, China is bracing for relations with the United States to enter a dangerous period under the continuing leadership of President Xi Jinping, intending to stand firm against President Trump and against policies it sees as attempts to contain its rise.”
In order to pursue the agenda of making China a global power under his govern, Xi emerges as a strongman at the stage, not only with the move to extend his rule in tandem, but also with accelerating push on China’s strategic buildups. It is apparent that China is moving forward to the predominant position in the Asian-Pacific region, as well as attempting “to rebuild an Asian order with China at its center,” said Hugh White, a scholar and former defense official in Australia.
In this notion, analysts and critics also suggested that the United States must be prepared to share power with China in Asia, as China’s moves do significantly challenge the military dominance of the United States in the West-Pacific.
In addition to the focus on growing strategic power game between China and the United States, other major international media outlets like BBC helped present public dissent, since they are under the blanket of censorship and almost certainly cannot be heard within the country. BBC claimed that “extending president’s rule would be farce,” when introducing an open letter opposing the proposal from Li Datong, the former China Youth Daily editor.
Li says in the letter that scrapping term limits for the president and vice-president would sow the seeds of chaos. Making this bold move of expressing his oppose openly, Li explicitly claims that “this is against the tide of civilization and won’t stand the test of time. It will be considered a farce in Chinese history in the future.”
It is not only the removal of term limit itself that may be seen as a farce, or the state-run media’s downplay on this specific proposal, but also the “widespread censorship clampdown,” as described by CNN. After the announcement of dropping presidential term limits, there were critics other than Li who have made all efforts to make their voices heard. For a moment, the pushback to this decision was intense online, as people even took a screenshot of Li’s letter and posted it upside down in order to share it.
However strong the backlash was to this decision, “so was the government’s pushback to the pushback,” stated CNN. In addition to the censorship of Winnie the Pooh, which some used as a metaphor to Xi, Chinese sensors also banned the letter “N” online. According to Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, the government likely feared that “N” was referring to the number of terms of office, as in a mathematical equation n > 2.
Moreover, words such as “disagree,” “personality cult,” “lifelong,” “immortality,” and “ascend the throne” were also deemed inappropriate to use and were blocked on the internet. Also, many intellectuals and lawyers have been warned by the authorities not to talk to foreign media or make any comment on social media, as claimed by BBC.
This movement of sidelining political rivals and limiting dissent is forecasted to be a year-long campaign throughout Xi’s terms, being one of his ways to entrench his power. Carrying his intention to take China what he see as its rightful place as a top global power, Xi is expected to “make the right decision by reflecting on history” by an interviewee of the New York Times.
Taking the same stance with Li, it can be hard to hold positive expectations while Xi is using his power to imprison scores of dissidents, stifle free speech, and tighten oversight of the economy, the world’s second largest.