By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
There was nothing subtle about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unabashed power grab over the weekend.
Even before entering his second five-year term in office – which begins in March and which was supposed to be his last, according to term limits imposed in 1982 to avoid potential presidencies-for-life – the country’s ruling Communist Party‘s Central Committee proposed new regulations on Sunday, March 25, that would allow Xi to stay in office indefinitely.
Technically, the new rules will have to be ratified by China’s parliament next month, but for all and intents and purposes, the party is expecting a rubberstamp blessing from legislators. (To date, China’s National People’s Congress has never once rejected a law proposed by the party.)
This means that, essentially, Xi now has carte blanche to do whatever he likes and to stay in office as long as he likes (just so long as plays nice with the real powers that be, the party and the military, neither of which have to worry about the petty restraints of legal term limits).
The new rules also raise some pretty hairy concerns about the issue of political succession.
Communist China has a dubious history of purging designated successors (between 1960 and 1980 alone, at least five would-be presidents were politically sidelined by the party).
There can be no doubt that Xi has made a pack with the devil (or at least the Communist Party, which is sort of the same thing), and his new political portrait of Dorian Gray means he is now free to pursue his ambitions of becoming a national cult hero to rival the likes of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping (the reason the term limits were established in the first place was to avoid these types of cult followings).
And the heavy-handed Xi has a clear and defined vision of what he wants his new 21st century China to look like – modern, disciplined, orderly and under a more decisive control of an all-powerful Communist Party.
And just in case anyone is thinking that Xi’s ambitions are altruistic, it is worth noting that he has over the course of the last five years repeatedly compared himself to China’s first president, Yuan Shikai, who, in 1915, proclaimed himself emperor (Yuan’s would-be imperial reign was cut short when the military stepped in and ordered him back to the confines of a presidential rule).
But an astute Xi learned from Yuan’s mistakes, and instead of antagonizing the army and party, he promised to empower them even more in exchange for his brash bid for a lifelong presidency.
Should there be any doubt as to what type of leader an unbridled Xi would be in the global arena, a quick review of his first five years in office shows his strongman tactics are not limited to China’s internal affairs.
He has already proven himself a political bully in the South China Sea, where he has defied international maritime law and gone ahead with his expansionist plans to usurp international waters over which he claims China has “historically exercised exclusive control.”
He has also plowed ahead with his come-hell-or-high-water China-dominated Silk Road initiative by coaxing and intimidating other participating countries into recognizing Beijing’s supremacy over the proposed new trade route.
And, for good measure, Xi has revved up China’s military so that should there be any dissenters to his expansionist goals, he can flex his country’s military muscles and take whatever is not readily offered up.
Only time will tell where Xi’s new unfettered powers will lead him and China, but one thing is certain: He now has absolute power, and we all know what that leads to.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.