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Xi Jing Ping: President for life?

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The central committee of the Communist Party of China proposed to remove the expression that the president and the vice-president ‘shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’ from the constitution of China, the official newswire of China Xinhua reported last week. The proposal was made public on Sunday.

Xi Jin Ping is already touted by many as the most powerful man on earth. Previously, he has shored up his power by demanding obedience from the Army, saying that the Communist Party ‘commands the gun’. The recent amendment to the constitution removes the cap that the two predecessors of Xi Jin Ping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao had set a pattern of.

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There were already signs of Xi Jin Ping’s ambitions when his thought of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era’ was incorporated into the Communist Party’s constitution. In early 2016, Xi Jin Ping also demanded ‘absolute obedience’ from Chinese state media, while touring major news outlets and tightening his control over the country’s news agencies.

Steve Tsang, the director of the Soas China Institute, said, “A lot will depend on how the economy goes over the next 10 or 20 years.” A sustained economic slowdown, however, could consign Xi’s rule to the history books and Xi knows that, according to Tsang.

Xi will be ‘emperor for life’.

Others, however, have been less sanguine. Reaction by some liberal ‘small D’ democrats in the West has been visceral.  Shirk, US deputy assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton, said: “What is going on here is that Xi Jinping is setting himself up to rule China as a strongman, a personalistic leader – I have no problem calling it a dictator – for life.” Willy Lam, professor of politics at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said that Xi will be ‘emperor for life’.

It must be noted that the proposal made by the 205-member central committee of the Communist Party is yet to be accepted by the National Party Congress later this month. The National Party Congress is akin to a parliament that can either reject or ratify proposals made by the central committee.

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Technically, therefore, there is a possibility that Xi Jin Ping’s rule may also be restricted to two consecutive 5-year terms. However, the National Party Congress has never rejected a law put before it by party or government. Hence, it is likely, that Xi Jin Ping will continue to rule China for the foreseeable future.

Chinese state media, predictably, responded positively to the proposal. In an English editorial in the Global Times, a party-run daily tabloid, it was reiterated that all Chinese people support the amendment and hope it can contribute to their well-being.

As China becomes more powerful each passing year, there have been increasing concerns over human rights abuses in China. “It will get worse, for sure … the consequences will be very severe,” warned Wu’er Kaixi, a prominent Chinese dissident who fled into exile after helping lead the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

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The Tiananmen Square is located in the center of Beijing, where in 1989, protestors demanded democratic reforms in the Chinese political system. The government responded with a crackdown by the Chinese Military that allegedly led to the deaths of over 10,000 protestors. Xi has become the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao-Zedung, who died in office, having never retired. With Xi set to rule China for decades to come, human rights abuses in Tibet and China’s restive province, Xinjiang, will probably continue.

At the end of the cold war, there was great liberal optimism among intellectuals in the West. Author of the book, The End of History, Francis Fukiyama, wrote “At the end of history, there are no serious ideological competitors left to liberal democracy.” Such economic and ideological determinism was characteristic to the post-Cold War years.

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  Contrary to such grandiose prophecies, Xi Jin Ping has been able to engineer the policy formulation process in Communist China to his advantage and continues to maintain his iron grip on power. The end of history as Fukiyama envisioned seems be far away. We may in fact be at the beginning of a new history entirely.

In a three and a half hour speech to the 19th Communist Party Congress, Xi Jin Ping outlined his vision not just for the next 5 years but for the next 30 years, adding that the socialist model of governance in China provides “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.”

In no uncertain terms, Xi said that other developing nations can adopt China’s model, as opposed to liberal democracy. Especially telling is the fact Trump, the so-called leader of the free world, has praised Xi Jin Ping for being able to become president for life. “Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday”, he added. Such statements by leaders in the west undercut the appeal of liberal democracies.

Xi Jin Ping’s bid to become leader is set to have widespread ideological, economic and political implications not only for China but for the rest of the world as well.


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