China’s Communist Party proposed an amendment to the country’s constitution on Sunday which would end its two-term presidential term limit.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has held office since 2013 and whose second five-year term is up in 2023, could become “the most powerful [Chinese] leader since Mao Zedong,” Michael J. Green ’83 said in an interview with the Collegian. Green is a former special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) under former President George W. Bush.
The proposal to amend the Chinese constitution will go to the National People’s Consultative Congress in about a week. “[The Congress is a] rubber stamp body — it’s not a real democracy, and it’s 97 percent certain they’ll pass it,” Green said. Assistant Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies Michelle Mood said that “there’s no question about it, and I think it was pretty obvious … that he was not setting up a successor.”
The repeal will make Xi president indefinitely, contributing to a “bad authoritarian trend” which we have not seen since the economic downturn of the 1930s, according to Green.
The elimination of presidential term limits gives Xi the ability to further consolidate his power and create a cult of personality, which China has not seen since Mao.
There has been a clear shift in how countries around the world think about China’s growing power, which “is because of Xi Jinping,” Green said. His leadership has forced smaller countries to align with China, allowing the dominant nation to take disproportionate gains because they are unsure if larger countries will back them up. Larger countries like the U.S., Japan, India and Australia are forced to counterbalance Xi’s power by becoming more hard-lined on China and created a quad grouping to deal with Chinese actions, according to Green.
China has taken “very aggressive” actions in the region, building forts “10,000 feet in the sky” and “3,000-meter [People’s Liberation Army] air-force runways and man-made islands around the South China Sea,” Green said.
Mood thinks the U.S. will do nothing to intervene. She said that the Chinese have “illegally built islands” where they conducted military tactical maneuvers, landed military jets, built hotels and landed passenger planes. In addition, the Chinese have “successfully propagandized their people to believe that they have a historic claim to all of the South China Sea,” Mood said.
China has a long-term goal to create a viable alternative to liberal democracy, and is trying to shape international norms, according to Mood. She believes that the “China Dream” is being defined as a clear rejection of democratic institutions and norms.
This development directly contrasts President Donald Trump’s national security strategy, “which frames our foreign policy as addressing the challenge of rising great power rivals” with China as first and foremost, according to Green. “We haven’t had [a national security strategy] since the Cold War that framed our role in the world as dealing with a rival hegemon … this is the first time,” Green said.
If Xi Jinping succeeds in relieving himself of term limits and framing authoritarianism as a viable alternative to liberal democracy, “he will not only have secured his own future and extended the future of China’s Communist Party, he may also establish a new model for authoritarianism to thrive worldwide,” The New York Times said on Feb. 28.
“There’s this old phrase, ‘may you live in interesting times.’ … I feel a little bit like all of a sudden things got a little too interesting,” Mood said.