Xi Jinping nails down his status as China’s top leader

Move to remove limit on presidential terms allows president to stay on indefinitely

Chinese President Xi Jinping: ‘in a strong position and can get what he desires’. Photograph: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Chinese President Xi Jinping: ‘in a strong position and can get what he desires’. Photograph: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

 

China’s president, Xi Jinping, has cleared the path to stay on as leader past the end of his second term and cement his position as China’s most powerful leader for decades.

There was a flurry of announcements on the Xinhua news agency’s English-language website on Sunday about changes to the ruling Communist Party codes - one week before the start of China’s annual rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), on March 5th.

The most significant of the announcements proposed removing language from the document that says the head of state “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms”.

This line was the only formal barrier stopping Mr Xi, who is also general secretary of the party and commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army, from staying in power past 2022.

During the 19th Communist Party congress in November, Mr Xi declined to name a successor, leading to speculation the 64-year-old planned to stay on in the top job past the customary two five-year terms.

However, it marks a break with the traditional succession practices introduced to avoid instability after founding father Mao Zedong’s rule.

“Xi will get the lifting of a term limit to the presidency through in the forthcoming NPC, and it will be clear that he intends to stay in power as he is now at the 20th Congress. It is an articulation of confidence. But it may also get more within the leadership to feel even less comfortable than previously,” Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute in London, told The Irish Times.

The 19th National Congress was a triumphant moment for Mr Xi, who promised the realisation of his “China Dream” for the country to have a “fully modern” economy by 2035 and to reach high-income status by 2049 – the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.

Mr Tsang says Mr Xi is in a much stronger position than his predecessor, Hu Jintao. “Xi has not tried to endear himself to the party establishment but simply requested and required support and respect from others within the establishment.

“He has got them, though many in the establishment might have offered them somewhat grudgingly,” said Mr Tsang.

“The reality remains that Xi is in a strong position and can get what he desires — the presidency beyond 2022 — rather than limit himself to get what he needs to stay in power. Xi can do the latter as general secretary of the Communist Party, and he has put himself in a very powerful position to do that at the 19th Congress,” said Tsang.

Next week, the party’s central committee will hold a three-day plenum in Beijing that is expected to further strengthen Mr Xi’s position by installing his allies as central bank governor and to lead the banking watchdog.

The central committee has also proposed including inserting “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” into the constitution.

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