Simply put yes, President Xi has formed a China into a “Frankenstate” in which his power is growing. On March 11th 2018, China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress, voted to get rid of the presidential term limits specified in the country’s constitution. Out of the near 3000 people who form the body only 5 did not support the vote. This single piece of legislation opens to door for President Xi to continue his term indefinitely. Xi is also currently the most powerful man in China holding the positions of president, party leader(in a one party system) and military chairman. Many political figures feared this was going to happen after Xi failed to choose a successor as was customary to do in your final term, and they were obviously right. There was very little push back from either the public or the media because Xi is loved by the population and feared by the presses. Due to government censorship even if there were dissenting opinions within the country it is unlikely that they would ge outside the borders.
President Xi has also been called China’s first populist president, often times promising that he is the leader to make China into the superpower that is can be. Xi in one speech spoke about his plans for the next 30 years, and obviously he couldn’t do that with the term limit laws in the way. When he first came into office in 2013 Xi promised that he would fight corruption from the largest tiger to the smallest fly. Petty corruption has substantially decreased, and while that’s a great thing Xi has been outspoken that he is the sole reason for it. President Xi doesn’t have to answer directly to the voters ulike many world leaders, but he does answer to the communist party as the leader of it. Xi perfectly timed his stint in office because in 2021 he will be the current leader of the party as the party turns 100 years old. He will be celebrated in the streets, and doesn’t have to share the spotlight with a successor. Over the past 5 years Xi has used his fight against corruption to restructure the government and the party, making the communist party play a much more defined role in the lives of citizens. He has also used his power to influence schools a state medias to support the party. Nationalism in China is on the rise as Xi preaches a trump-esq China first mentality. This has created some problems internationally just as Trumps brash approach to trade has, and while it hasn’t yet lead to military conflict it very easily could from the creation of islands in the south China sea to the constant patrols in the east China sea. President Xi has also overhauled and updated the people’s liberation army for that exact reason.
Earlier I said President Xi is a threat to democracy, but it’s not actually Xi himself it’s the policies that he is putting in place that could be extorted later down the road. President Xi could be the greatest leader in all of China’s history, but as soon as he leaves the office another leader could step in an abuse a weakened system of checks and balances. A similar individual with the trinity of leadership roles (party leader, president, chairman of the army) could keep his roles until he dies, because the role of the chairman of the armed forces (lifetime role), party leader (party dependent), and president (indefinite). The party claims that they will remove a president in who they feel is not doing what’s best for the party, but the president would be hard to remove if he was also the leader of the party and commanded a large armed force. We read about a very similar set of circumstances in Venezuela. The situation that could look a lot like Venezuela Chavez the charismatic leader who was adored by the public was able to weaken the checks and balances on the Presidential role, and while Chavez wasn’t perfect he was a popular populist meaning that he actually worked to make the country better. Chavez was succeeded by Maduro and he lead the country in a much different direction. Now Venezuelans can’t buy food, and there are riots in the streets. While there are obvious differences between the two situations, and Xi could not see a successor for a long time the similarities are enough to make you think twice.
Muller, Jan-Werner. 2016. What Is Populism? Philadelphia: UPenn Press.
Scheppele, Kim Lane. 2013. “Not Your Father’s Authoritarianism: The Creation of the ‘Frankenstate’.” European Politics and Society Newsletter.