China’s military throws weight behind controversial move to scrap term limits

PLA mouthpiece says proposed changes to constitution ‘reflect new achievements, experience and demands of party and country’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 5:44pm

China’s armed forces have voiced support for the ruling Communist Party’s controversial proposal to end the two-term limit on the presidency that could see Xi Jinping stay in power indefinitely.

The planned constitutional revisions – including removing the phrase about term limits for the president and vice-president – “are in line with the major theoretical views and key policies made during the Communist Party’s 19th congress ... and reflect the new achievements, experience and demands of the party and the country’s development”, the PLA Daily said in a front-page report on Tuesday.

The military mouthpiece also described the move as “very necessary and timely”.

Xi’s political theory, “Xi Jinping Thought”, will also be added to the constitution under the proposed changes, and new super anti-graft body the National Supervisory Commission will be listed as a state agency, Xinhua reported on Sunday. The amendments are expected to be passed at the annual national legislative sessions starting next week.

Is keeping Xi Jinping in power the answer to China’s economic woes or a recipe for disaster?

While the move came as no surprise to many China watchers, its announcement so early in Xi’s second term was unexpected. It is widely seen as Xi’s latest attempt to further consolidate his power and ensure the continuity of policies such as the unprecedented anti-corruption campaign that has ensnared high-ranking military officials including Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong – both former generals and vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, which Xi now leads.

Following their downfalls, state media editorials excoriated Xu, Guo and other military heavyweights for their “political and disciplinary problems”, suggesting they were part of factions that had formed against the top leadership.

Xi, who said bribery and corruption among the military’s top brass had corroded morale, wants to turn the People’s Liberation Army into a modern fighting force that can protect China’s interests at a time when disputes are growing with countries in Southeast Asia, major rival India and old foe Japan.

Liberals in Hong Kong fear for city’s future as China falls back on strongman rule

But there has also been a backlash against the proposal to remove the term limits, including from some Chinese academics. In an open letter to the National People’s Congress on Monday, Li Datong, a former editor with state-run China Youth Daily, called on lawmakers to vote down the proposal, which he said could “sow the seeds of chaos for China”. He said the two-term limit, introduced in 1982, reflected “the enormous suffering of the Cultural Revolution” and was “one of the most important political legal legacies of [late paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping”.

And while the change could cement Beijing’s ambition to fill the global leadership vacuum left by US President Trump and push forward Xi’s trade and infrastructure strategy, the “Belt and Road Initiative”, the strongman policy could also cause international fallout, especially in countries with which China has disputes.