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Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping must stay on as China’s president during this critical time, as Roosevelt did for the US

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 10:14pm

Those opposed to China’s proposal to drop the presidential term limit are concerned about over-concentration of power (“‘It will sow the seeds of chaos for China’: intellectuals urge lawmakers to vote down end to presidential term limit”, February 26). What they miss is that power is not necessarily an end in itself, but a means to implementing policies. If policies are good policies, power can be put to good use.

President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is not finished yet, and his effort at equalising wealth by redistributing resources to rural areas has just begun. His “Belt and Road Initiative” will take many years to bear fruit. Thus, extending his term of office on the state side and making it consistent with his term of office on the party side would consolidate his leadership capabilities.

Whether power corrupts is not a matter of checks and balances alone, as those who check each other can be mutually corrupt. It is up to everyone’s own judgment whether Xi has passed the moral test. Xi is a known quantity, as he has a long record of public service and a first term as president to be scrutinised. It is ironic that critics of Xi all refer to Deng Xiaoping’s institutional reform, without noting that Deng’s legitimacy came not only from his economic policies but also from his charismatic leadership, which was exactly what his institutional reform was meant to curb.

In ending presidential term limits, ‘Xi Jinping is thinking global and acting local’

Whether power corrupts is not a matter of checks and balances alone

Despite his abdication from official posts, Deng remained the de facto leader of China until his death. Deng’s institutional reform was evidently premature and did not yield the intended results, as demonstrated by the corruption under the watches of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao that Xi is currently trying to clean up.

Comparatively, a prime minister in a Western parliamentary system has no term limit either. The Japanese prime minister has also extended his party leadership, and thus his prime minister title, to three terms. Even in a highly institutionalised system like the US’, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president four times because the American people wanted continuity during a critical period. China is currently going through the same. Specific leadership makes a difference.

As China does not have mature institutions, mere term limits will not solve substantive problems like corruption. Capable leaders need concentrated power to do the job, which is the current situation.

Michael Ng-Quinn, professor of political science, University of Redlands, California