China's Communist Party Proposal Sets Stage for Xi to Hold Onto Power
Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/Zuma Press
BEIJING—China’s Communist Party proposed eliminating a constitutional cap on presidential terms, solidifying signs Xi Jinping intends to cast off decades-old restraints on one-man rule and stay in power for many years to come.
The proposal, announced on Sunday by state media, comes after President Xi accumulated tokens of power in recent months that essentially give him unrivaled control over decision-making, an authority that appears likely to persist after his second terms as Communist Party chief and president expire roughly five years from now.
Plans to remove a two-term limit on China’s presidency are part of constitutional amendments set for approval by lawmakers next month, when they gather for an annual legislative session—a formality in what some observers describe as Mr. Xi’s efforts to acquire a degree of personal authority not seen since the Mao era.
In October, the Communist Party declared the 64-year-old Mr. Xi as its greatest living theorist and appointed him to a second five-year term as party chief without a likely successor—effectively giving him pre-eminent sway over Chinese politics for potentially decades to come.
In China, the presidency has been mostly a symbolic office, with the party’s general secretary considered the country’s most powerful political post. Incumbents in that role have—excluding during transition periods—concurrently served as president, as well as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the armed forces.
Mr. Xi was appointed to a second five-year term as the party’s general secretary in October and is set to start his second term as president in March. Former anticorruption czar Wang Qishan, 69 years old, is in the running to assume the vice presidency next month, according to people familiar with the situation.
“Xi wants to be like Mao,” says a Chinese official involved in decision-making. “With Wang Qishan as vice president, Xi can just focus on big strategic issues as the nation’s paramount leader and let Wang take care of all those foreign trips and other affairs.”
The party doesn’t impose term limits for the general secretary, though senior leaders have since 2002 adhered to retirement norms that block top officials from starting new terms at age 68 or older. Party insiders and analysts say Mr. Xi may seek to circumvent that practice when his second term as a party chief expires in 2022, and scrapping presidential term limits reinforce such a perception.
China imposed the two-term limit on the presidency in 1982, when Deng Xiaoping oversaw the passage of a new constitution as part of his efforts to install institutional safeguards against the return of Mao-era dictatorship. While Deng himself wielded paramount power in China until the early 1990s without becoming president, subsequent leaders have all held the office.
As part of constitutional amendments to be approved in March by the National People’s Congress, the party’s Central Committee—its top 376 officials—suggested deleting a clause stipulating that China’s president and vice president “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.
The Central Committee also suggested adding a political slogan bearing Mr. Xi’s name to the national constitution. The proposal mirrors changes at an October party congress, when the party adopted “
Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” as a guiding ideology—placing Mr. Xi alongside
and Deng as the only leaders with political slogans bearing their names enshrined in the party’s governing charter.
The draft amendments would also allow the creation of a national anticorruption agency with broad authority to supervise public servants. Officials and analysts say the new national supervisory commission would offer Mr. Xi more tools to target rivals and those he considers foot-dragging bureaucrats who hamper his policy edicts, particularly at lower rungs of government. In China, party members account for some 80% of public servants.
If passed, the proposed amendments unveiled Sunday would mark the fifth set of revisions made to this constitution.
—Lingling Wei contributed to this article.
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