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Editorial: China's attempt to scrap upper limit on president's tenure raises concerns

The abolition of the two five-year term limit on China's president has been incorporated in a proposed constitutional amendment draft. The National People's Congress, China's parliament, is set to approve the proposed constitutional revision at a session that convenes on March 5, opening the way for President Xi Jinping to stay on after his current second term expires.

The provision on the term limits of the Chinese presidency was incorporated in the current Constitution, which was enacted in 1982 by overhauling the old supreme law, out of reflection for the overconcentration of power on former President Mao Zedong, which caused confusion and disturbances such as the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. The proposed elimination of the term limits has raised concerns of excessive centralization of power in the hands of a head of state again.

Under the plan, the clause stating that the president must not serve more than two consecutive terms will be deleted from the Constitution. However, the provision reflects the will of former top Chinese officials including Deng Xiaoping, who had been persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, not to revive the lifelong leadership system.

Xi's two predecessors -- Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao -- stepped down after serving two five-year terms, respectively, cementing China's power transfer framework. However, the elimination of the term limits on the country's president could revive the age when the country was ruled at the discretion of an influential leader rather than by law.

Chinese activists living overseas criticize the eradication of the term limits, which they describe as "the revival of an imperial regime," comparing the situation to Yuan Shikai's attempt to accede to the throne after the Xinhai Revolution that broke out in 1911. Some in China have also voiced anxiety that the move runs counter to the late Deng's will.

It is said that the world is experiencing the greatest transition since the end of the Cold War because of the ongoing information revolution and globalization. There are political leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who have stayed in power over long periods in a bid to overcome difficult situations their countries face. Xi may be aiming to follow suit.

At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2017, a possible successor to Xi was not appointed to the party's Politburo Standing Committee, raising speculation that the president was already aiming to retain power for the long haul. If re-elected to a third term as president at the 20th party congress in 2022, Xi will be able to serve as Chinese head of state until 2028.

"Xi Jinping Thought" will be written into the Constitution. Even though a collective leadership system is a core part of the CPC's platform, Xi is assuming even greater power, which reminds people of the personality cult surrounding Mao. The possibility of reviving the lifelong leadership system cannot be ruled out.

World history has clearly shown that absolute power will certainly become corrupt in the end. The establishment of a national oversight panel, to be tasked with supervising the government, will be incorporated in the Constitution. However, such a panel will highly unlikely be able to control the power of the country's top leader.

If harmful effects of iron-fist rule were to appear not only in China's domestic affairs but also in its diplomatic policy, it would intensify the country's friction with Japan and the United States as well as its neighboring countries. Unchecked power in China would be highly risky all the more because popular will is not reflected in China's politics under the country's governing structure.

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