What’s Behind China’s Constitution Changes

Analysts break down Xi Jinping’s move to eliminate leader term limit
March 15, 2018 Updated: October 8, 2018

The news of China abolishing term limits for the state chairman position has led many to speculate that current chairman Xi Jinping may rule for life.

Many media surmised that China would soon return to a Mao Zedong-like dictatorship.

Others, including The Epoch Times, analyzed Xi’s move as indicative of his need to further consolidate his power within a party still fractious and embroiled in factional battles. Officials loyal to former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin make up a major oppositional force to the Xi leadership—though at last October’s important political conclave, the 19th National Congress, the Jiang faction saw its power weakened after Xi was able to appoint many of his allies to top positions.

In recent days, analysts and media around the world have offered alternative readings of why Xi set off this precedent-breaking maneuver.

If he did not cement his power at all levels, it could also hit him after his second term in office: downfall, jail, and prison sentence.
— From an analysis by Austrian newspaper Die Presse

Xi had made too many enemies with his anti-corruption campaign that felled thousands of Party bigwigs, so “if he did not cement his power at all levels, it could also hit him after his second term in office: downfall, jail, and prison sentence,” according to Austrian newspaper Die Presse, in an analysis published on March 12.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman passes a newspaper stand showing a magazine with a picture of Chinese leader Xi Jinping on its cover, in downtown Shanghai on March 12, 2018. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Some of those top officials include Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar and right-hand man to Jiang; Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, two powerful military generals; and Ling Jihua, chief political adviser to Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.

Meanwhile, Chenshen Yen, researcher at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations in Taiwan, told Radio Free Asia that he believes Xi abolished term limits not necessarily to serve another term himself but to prevent oppositional forces from gathering power to name their own successor, “for example, if Hu Jintao made his choice for Xi’s successor.”

“In the past, the Party leader skips a generation to appoint the following leader,” Yen said, referring to the practice since Deng of the incumbent being able to appoint the leader who follows his immediate successor.

Last year, Xi purged Sun Zhengcai, who was widely believed to be Xi’s successor. Sun was closely aligned with the Jiang faction.

Deng Yuwen, a researcher at the China-based think tank Charhar Institute, penned an editorial in the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post explaining why he thinks it’s unlikely Xi will serve for life. “To repeal the term limits, Xi would have needed the consent of senior party members. If he is forcing the rule change without such a consensus, he may worsen divisions in the leadership, which would impede the working of his own government. Thus, Xi is likely to have promised the party elite that he would not wreck the institution of political succession by staying in power for life,” Deng wrote in an article published on March 14.

Deng also pointed out that the regime is keen to maintain its image and would not want to risk the public’s negative reaction to a leader-for-life—especially given the fervent voices of opposition on Chinese social media (which were quickly censored) upon announcement of the Party’s plan to abolish term limits.

Wen Pu contributed to this report.

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