President Xi Jinping’s second term was meant to come to an end in 2023. However, the news that the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee has moved to eliminate the constitution’s two-term limit for presidents suggests he plans on staying in power longer than this – and perhaps indefinitely. The rest of the world will now have to figure out how best to deal with him.
Xi is currently 64 years old, which means he could dominate Chinese politics until 2030. This would let him implement his ambitious ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, to link Eurasia through Chinese infrastructure and trade, and the ‘Made In China 2025’ plan, which aims to make China a manufacturing leader in advanced technologies like aviation, energy and IT. It would also allow him to put in place further policies to reach his overall goal of making China a ‘great modern socialist country’ by 2050 – just at the 100th anniversary of the takeover of China by Mao Zedong in 1949.
Xi’s power grab is being reflected against perceived tribulations of Western democracy. The Chinese media is crowing that democracy is ‘ulcerating’ around the world – and Xi’s assumption of potentially unlimited power is being portrayed as natural, rather than dangerous. The Communist party has painted Xi’s move as an expression of popular support, but there has also been a widespread backlash online – and a subsequent crackdown against any dissidence.
Mao’s ghost now looms over Xi’s tenure. To begin with, Xi is now regularly recognised as the most powerful leader since the legendary Mao. At the 19th Party Congress last autumn, ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ was proposed to be enshrined in the Constitution, putting Xi on a formal par with Mao and Deng Xiaoping. And, just as Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward was supposed to make China a powerful, modern nation, Xi’s 2050 plan harks back to the same dreams of forever putting China’s backwardness behind it.