In a historic vote, China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress, voted to get rid of presidential term limits.
The vote took place in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and resulted in a vote with 2,958 in favor and 2 against. This shows overwhelming support for President Xi in the governing body of China. However, in a time where thousands of political opponents of Xi are being incarcerated for hundreds of reasons, the lack of dissenters is unsurprising. President Xi’s power has become nigh guaranteed for the foreseeable future with this vote, and the little amount of democracy that existed in China before has dwindled even further.
This vote may come as less of a surprise considering the actions Xi Jinping has taken in the last decade towards consolidating power. Beginning in 2012, the Chinese Government began a massive anti-corruption campaign. This campaign is ongoing, and has resulted in the incarceration of over a million government officials. Charges have included bribery, corruption, divulging state secrets, and even “violation of party discipline”. This is the largest anti-corruption political campaign in China since the great “Cultural Revolution” that resulted in the current state’s creation. Indeed, President Xi’s increasing power recalls the ideas of Mao Zedong, who also took action to remove any state officials that disagreed with him.
The actions of President Xi come at a time of heightened global political awareness due to the presence of many important national leaders coming to power that have highly abnormal political stances. Accusations of demagoguery and populism have been levied towards Trump in the U.S., Putin the Russia, and Duterte in the Philippines. The idea that leaders could come to power in democratic nations that might undermine the democratic institutions in place is not a new one, but the increase in political focus all over the world indicates that the global population is feeling less secure than they have in the past.
The censorship of the internet and other forms of communication for the public in China serve to prevent civil unrest or protests towards the government. By censoring communication for the people, the government and President Xi have further secured their power and security. Even if many Chinese citizens did not approve of the elimination of presidential term limits, it would be difficult to tell because people can not safely express their opinions without fear of the state coming down on them, or even just fear of not being heard. This censorship of media is one of the largest indicators of the lack of democracy in China, and without being able to publicly criticize President Xi or his party, there is little hope for change in the future.
China’s status as the leading power in Asia means that it serves as an example of sorts for other nations in the area. By continuing to head away from democracy and towards dictatorship, China is heavily contributing to the erosion of global democracy in Asia and even other developing areas of the world.
Many people attempt to justify President Xi’s power grab by saying that as long as China can continue its massive rate of economic and developmental growth, then there should be little concern for what he does. However, as the Chinese government continues to gain influence over the people, and state officials no longer have to fear being replaced, they will be able to implement harder and harder policies geared towards personal gain at the cost of the people of China. When the point comes where the rate of national growth is no longer maintained, the justifications for the government will be gone but so will the citizens’ ability to fight against it.
The ease with which China has eliminated term limits in a world where they’re near-universal may be due to the historical precedent set by the Chinese Government in ages past, where everything was a dynasty and all rulers ruled until death or abdication. Other world leaders looking to circumvent term limits, such as Vladimir Putin, get around them using technically legal methods instead of getting rid of them all together. This may be due to the democratic pressure of western civilization on all important nations, and Russia’s proximity to Europe. For China, there is little risk of consequences from nearby nations because of its status as the preeminent power of Asia.
China is a Communist nation, but the rate of economic growth is largely due to the free market policies in major trade areas of the nation. Considering that prosperity is the major factor holding back widespread civil backlash, the most important limit on the power of the Chinese Government is that they can not implement trade limitations in these areas without huge risk. This means that while China stands as an example of eroded democracy for other nations in Asia to follow, it will be unable to shut out the influence of the Western world on China as well as other nations in its geopolitical area of influence.
*Photo by the BRICS and SCO Host Photo Agency, “President of China Xi Jinping”, Creative Commons Zero License.
Great read! Your op-ed shows some out-of-the-box thinking. My concern though is on the usage of the term “dynasty” as per your title and your argument. If we are going to place President Xi under this premise, there must have been some move on his part to manipulate the system of intra-party elections to create a position for his daughter or his spouse to be in power. You are correct that it may have stemmed from a historical precedent set ages past, but it would benefit your argument more if we emphasize on the fact that China has no democratic tradition whatsoever, even during the time when the Kuomintang Party has been in power with Chiang Kai-shek as their leader. This zero experience with democracy brings forth the fact that there is less space for democratic norms (the one we are familiar with given the type of democracy that we have) to form. The only norm I can think of which originated from the practice of the former Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin is democratic centralism, wherein decisions made at the top are based on reports from below. This is also the premise of their selection of those who will sit in the politburo and who will be the next President.
While I personally do not approve of the removal of his term limits as well, there has to be a more nuanced acknowledgment that his extension may also be in service of the two-centenary goals, the first of which is approaching (year 2021). It is symbolic as it marks the 100th year founding anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, and what the government, under the “Chinese Dream” hopes to have achieved by that point, is a moderately prosperous society in all respects.