by Madisen Ro
On March 12, 2018, the Chinese Communist Party voted almost unanimously to eliminate the presidential and vice presidential term limits. 2,958 voted in favor of the change, while two opposed and three abstained.
According to Article 66 and 79 of China’s 1982 Constitution created under Deng Xiaoping, the president, vice president and National People’s Congress serve five year terms with the option of serving a consecutive second term. It is widely believed that Deng put this system in place in order to prevent tyranny. Historically, the president has not only served as head of the state, but also the head of the party and military.
Many have interpreted this amendment as a sign that President Xi intends to stay in office for life. This change raises questions about the increasing authoritarian rule and absolute power of the state and the decreasing chance for a more democratic China.
Internationally, the change has been criticized as perpetuating an increasing trend of a single party authoritarian rule. However, Trump has made jokes about perhaps giving “that a shot someday” and has reinforced his praise for President Xi.
Public opinion has been censored, so it is difficult to gauge what the people think, but there are many comments regarding the “ascension to the throne” and “the emperor is back” on Weibo. Pictures of Winnie the Pooh, often used as a mocking image of current President Xi, have been banned.
Further suppression of public opinion also continues to highlight human rights issues in the country. Heavy censorship and the Great Firewall of China have been parts of larger practices of denying human rights regarding freedom of speech outlined in the UN Human Rights Declaration of 1948.
Why is an even more authoritarian China important?
Domestically, this decision translates to a diminishing voice of the people in government affairs. Many Chinese dissidents and government critics have already been jailed for speaking out against such authoritarian practices. Over the past two years, over 200 critics have been detained for such activities.
In an era of already clashing ideological values and increasing economic competition, this fundamental change in governmental organization further highlights differences between Chinese and American core values. From a US perspective, this could further complicate cooperation and diplomatic relations because of increasingly diverging values regarding human rights.
From a regional perspective, this decision could create certain dilemmas. China is becoming an increasingly important trading partner. Up until 2015, China’s economy had been growing at an average of 10% over the past 30 years. As of 2017, China’s economic growth rate is 6.9%, compared to the US’s 2.6% (International Monetary Fund). If China is taking more aggressive and repressive government policies at home, it could be a worry for its neighbors in the Asia Pacific.
China’s decision also raises questions about the legitimacy of a constitution. Upholding a constitution that can be so easily amended to serve the party’s and the state’s interests serves as a weak source of legitimacy. Though it is unlikely that President Xi will regress the country back to the times of Mao, it is a significant step away from democratization. Whether that is a positive or negative development, it is certainly significant development in the governmental structure of a growing superpower.
Image by thierry ehrmann