China is set to let Xi Jinping rule for life — and it’s a ‘death knell’ for anyone opposing him

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping

  • The Chinese Communist Party is thinking about changing the constitution to get rid of term limits for the presidency, giving Xi Jinping a clear path forward to complete rule on a level unseen since Mao Zedong.
  • While the office of the president does not include institutional power, the president is in charge of China’s foreign policy.
  • The move to get rid of term limits is the latest in a series of moves made by Xi that gives him direct personal control over all aspects of China’s government.

Since becoming General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, Xi Jinping has ripped apart the norms of the CCP and cemented himself as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

Xi has led an almost unprecedented purge of corrupt party members, many of whom were part of an opposing faction within the CCP. Over 266,000 party members were jailed in his first year alone.

Sunday’s announcement that the CCP may get rid of presidential term limits could open the door to full-on Mao-style rule over China. Though the title “president” does not come with significant power, the announcement is still extremely important to China’s immediate future.

“It is sort of the death knell to some extent for people who oppose him,” Elizabeth Economy, the director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Business Insider.

“I think he’s basically said ‘both in terms of my leadership of the party, my leadership of the military, and now my leadership of foreign policy, I can conduct all of these positions for the rest of my life,'” Economy said.

At the CCP’s 19th Congress in October 2017, Xi didn’t name a successor, breaking with the Party’s tradition of mapping out a clear, orderly, and peaceful succession process. The same Congress also saw the adoption of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” as the guiding ideology by the CCP, and there have been reports that the party wants to make Xi Jinping Thought part of the country’s actual constitution.

By eliminating term limits, Xi solidifies his power over all aspects of China – getting him closer to total control over the country and making it even harder for his opponents to get him out of office.

“You already have people calling Xi Jinping emperor for life and he has nearly complete control over all aspects of the government in China,” CBS News Asia Correspondent Ben Tracy reported Monday. “This move will allow him to quash any remaining opposition.”

Decades of term limits

President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida.

President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Deng Xiaoping brought back term limits 1982 in an attempt to prevent one-man rule, something that the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution proved was disastrous.

“Over-concentration of power is liable to give rise to arbitrary rule by individuals at the expense of collective leadership,” Deng said.

Collective leadership between the General Secretary and the members of the CCP’s Politburo has been the way China has been governed since Mao. Because of this, the General Secretary does not personally control every aspect of the government.

“While there’s not a huge institutional power base behind the [office of the] president, the actual position is … the conduct of foreign policy,” Economy told Business Insider.

“He is the outward face to the rest of the world. When Xi Jinping travels, he goes as the president of China, not as the General Secretary of the CCP,” she said. “If he relinquishes the position of president, that means that at least in terms of foreign policy, he plays a much lesser role.”

Under Xi, China has notably expanded its reach and goals in places like the East and South China Seas.

Chinese state-run media is already parroting this point. The Global Times, the CCP’s populist tabloid, said on Sunday that China needs “stable, strong and consistent leadership,” especially for the “crucial period” of 2020 to 2035.