Top Chinese paper says reform does not mean lifelong presidency

People's Daily defends decision to remove term limits after criticism

Souvenir plates featuring portraits of current and late Chinese leaders (from right) Xi Jinping, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong are displayed for sale at a shop next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, March 1, 2018. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Souvenir plates featuring portraits of current and late Chinese leaders (from right) Xi Jinping, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong are displayed for sale at a shop next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, March 1, 2018. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

 

The official organ of China’s ruling Communist Party has defended plans to remove term limits for the presidency, saying they do not mean Xi Jinping will stay in power for life.

The Communist Party made the announcement on Sunday, leading to concern that Mr Xi was planning to overturn the tradition of ruling for two consecutive five-year terms and instead stay in power indefinitely. Some critics made unfavourable comparisons with the Kim family that has run North Korea for three generations.

The People’s Daily said the change was an “important move” to secure the party’s leadership in every aspect.

“This amendment does not mean changing the retirement system for party and national leaders, and it does not mean a life-long term system for leading officials,” it said.

Clearly states

The newspaper pointed out that the party constitution clearly states that Chinese leaders cannot stay in power forever, and in the event of ill health they are required to retire. These rules apply to the party general secretary, the president and the head of the central military commission, all titles currently held by Mr Xi.

“It is a system designed to accord with the national condition and ensure long-term peace and stability for the party and the country,” the paper said.

The term limits were introduced by former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, after a cult of personality built up around chairman Mao Zedong and led to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

The term limit removal is likely to be approved at this month’s annual meeting of China’s largely rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, which starts its meetings on Saturday.

Another unwritten rule is that senior cadres cannot be promoted after the age of 68, but there has been much speculation of late that Mr Xi’s close ally Wang Qishan, who has spearheaded an ongoing anti-corruption campaign, will be appointed as vice president at the NPC, with the brief of special envoy to the Trump administration.

Mr Wang retired last year from the standing committee of the politburo, having turned 69. If he is indeed appointed as vice president, technically there is nothing to stop Mr Xi, who is 64, from staying in his current positions beyond 2022. He has not followed the usual practice of naming a successor.

Intense propaganda campaign

There has been an intense propaganda campaign this week to support the proposed constitutional changes after criticism from overseas and even within China itself.

In a strongly worded editorial about the proposed amendments to the constitution, the Global Times tabloid, another Communist Party organ, accused Western media of “bad-mouthing China”.

“It is worth noting that for some time the Western media have been growing strident in their abuse of Beijing, almost using curse words,” it said.

The editorial called for solidarity and unity to help complete the second half of China’s modernisation in the face of “hysterical” Western desire for China to suffer “misfortune” and “crumble”.

“All Chinese people, whether they work for state-owned institutions or not, whether they support the nation’s path or not, even dissidents, are enjoying development opportunities as well as the might of China, which did not come easily. If China collapses the way the outside world wishes, all Chinese people will lose,” it said.