So, Xi is not an ‘Emperor’ of China?

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Chinese Parliament has arranged President Xi Jinping to rule China indefinitely by scrapping the presidential term in a controversial move.

The Chinese Parliament announced the move on Sunday that out of 2,963 delegates, 2,958 voted in favor of the move at the annual session of the National People’s Congress. The Chinese Parliament said only two delegates voted against the move while three others abstained.

The recent move, which has been speculated for months after the Chinese leader didn’t choose any successor, ends the era of ‘collective’ leadership the country has been practicing since the end of the one-man rule of Mao Zedong.  The former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping promoted collective leadership to ensure stability after a turbulent Mao Zedong period.

Xi has been consolidating his power since he was elected the leader of the Communist Party in 2012. The Communist Party of China’s General Secretary has no term limits. But Xi’s predecessors, the last two former Presidents of China, gave up the title willingly after serving two terms.

Mr. Xi would have to relinquish the power after 2023 according to the constitution. But the latest move paved him the way to rule the country as long as he wishes.

Mr. Xi has been pushing a vision of ‘Rejuvenated China’ and promising the Chinese people to turn the country into a superpower with a very strong ‘world class’ military.

He earned massive popularity in China through his initiatives against corruption by punishing more than a million communist party officials. So, Mr. Xi apparently has tremendous support inside the country in favor for his move to eternalize his term as the president of the powerful nation taking the fact in consideration that the dissents are not quite welcome in China.

 “It’s conducive to upholding the authority of the Central Committee of the party with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core and also to unify leadership. Also, it will help strengthen and improve the country’s governance,” National People’s Congress spokesperson Zhang Yesui said after the Communist Party revealed they would go to the parliament to scrap the presidential term.

China’s move to scrap presidential term limits, however, didn’t receive a warm welcome from the international community. Peter Jennings, executive director of the non-partisan Australian Strategic Policy Institute think-tank, said this Chinese move to turn Xi into the sole authority of the country “pushes China towards a more authoritarian and militarised leadership. These trends should be deeply concerning to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. President Donald Trump praised the Chinese move to eliminate presidential term and allow Xi become a president for life even before the Chinese parliament confirmed the move.  CNN quoted President Trump’s remarks in a closed-door gathering, “He’s (President Xi) now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.” President Trump, however, later described his closed-door comments as a ‘joke’ and accused the media of ‘misportraying’ his comments.

BBC’s Stephen McDonell said the parliament’s move will make it tough to challenge the Chinese leader as he amassed power as much as of Mao Zedong. Mr. McDonell said, “The constitution has been altered to allow Xi Jinping to remain as president beyond two terms and they would not have gone to this much trouble if that was not exactly what he intended to do.

“There has been no national debate as to whether a leader should be allowed to stay on for as long as they choose. Quietly but surely Xi Jinping has changed the way his country is governed, with himself well and truly at the core.”

The Chinese Communist Party repudiated the allegations that Xi wants to hold power for life. The party said the move was only to ‘align the presidential term with that of party chief and military chief’. The move, however, made the Chinese authority stricter about any online backlash as it banned phrases like ‘I disagree’, ‘emperor’ and etc. The Chinese authority has also banned the legendary literary work ‘Animal Farm’ of George Orwell.

Mr. Xi, in spite of his success for China on the world stage and turning the country into an emerging Asian superpower, is highly criticized for his moves against dissents and abuse of human rights. During the next years of his rule as an ‘emperor-like’ president with tremendous power and support, Mr. Xi might further block the freedom of speech and thoughts in China.

Only time will answer if China really needed a lifetime president given the country has a fresh experience of a turbulent period under Mao Zedong. Even if Xi ultimately gives up power willingly in near future, this constitutional move might endanger the future stability of an emerging China with a lifelong dictator in action.

Xi’s willingness to stay in power of China indefinitely doesn’t necessarily connote that he will leave the stage anytime soon as the Communist Party tries to sound. The world might witness another Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in China. In this era of ‘strongmen leading the strong countries’, Xi’s assertion to an ‘emperor-like’ presidency will only ensure that the world will have to wait much longer to see the end of the ‘strongmen era’.

About Masum Billah 37 Articles
Masum Billah is a Staff Writer for The GeoStrategists. A Graduate from the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Masum Billah is a human rights activist. He writes columns on human rights, foreign policy, and terrorism.
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