The Communist Party of China has proposed to remove the term limits for President and Vice President, official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported on Sunday. The announcement was short and to-the-point, delivering in two lines news that would have a much grander resonance on Chinese social media channels.
Currently, the third section of Article 79 of the constitution states that the President and Vice President of the PRC “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms”.
The amendment has been proposed, but still needs to be officially passed. The change would mean that Xi Jinping could stay in office after his second five-year term for an undetermined period.
Thus far, Xi’s Presidency has been characterized by its ambition. He has exhibited a vision of China that far exceeds his predecessor, Hu Jintao, both in ambition and activity, that aims to not only strengthen China’s economy but to position it at the center of the global stage.
His policy initiatives include the massive belt and road initiative, which entails Chinese backed infrastructure projects across Eurasia to strengthen logistics and facilitate trade, including rail lines that extend from China’s East coast to Germany and maritime shipping routes. He’s laid claim to the South China Sea by enstating the famous Nine-Dash Line, which delineates China’s control over the world’s busiest shipping lanes, has physically enstated control of international waters by dredging several new island chains. He’s tightened all forms of media and digital communication, including a February 2016 new media policy stating that “All the work by the party’s media must reflect the party’s will, safeguard the party’s authority, and safeguard the party’s unity,” in an effort to maintain stability within the country’s borders.
Chinese social media platforms Weibo and Whatsapp were abuzz with comments about Xi Jinping’s potential tenure beyond his second term. A blog dedicated to reporting activity on Chinese social networks, What’s on Weibo, reported one micro-bloggers comment: “I’ve posted this before but it was censored within 13 minutes so I will post it again,” one micro-blogger wrote: “I oppose to the amendment of the ‘no more than two consecutive terms of office’ as addressed in the third section of Article 79 of the Constitution.”
What’s on Weibo further noted that by Sunday evening terms related to the amendment including “two-term limit” and “continued rule” became non-searchable. Despite this, some netizens have escaped internet censors by posting images of Winnie the Pooh holding a jar of honey.
While the news is shocking for many, it’s not without precedent. Since taking office in 2013, Xi Jinping has made numerous power plays to cement his power, providing him the tenure to ensure that he can follow through with ambitious policy initiatives. Only four years into his tenure, he’s announced that he will stay in power until – and after – 2023. He’s elected political allies to China’s top-party posts and the Congress has given him tighter control of China’s military.
Liu He, Xi Jinping’s top economic policymaker, is set to arrive in the United States on Tuesday to discuss the developing trade feud between the U.S. and China. The trip was announced on Friday and is slotted before China’s Congress convenes for its annual session, during which time the term limit extension will presumably be passed. Given the announcement, it’s safe to assume that Mr. He will devote a considerable portion of the visit explaining Xi’s recent power play to an alarmed United States, which recently deemed imports of Chinese aluminum and steel a threat to National Security. Other topics of tension include China’s debt-fueled economic expansion, a strategy that may continue through 2023 given Xi’s newly secured power.