Story highlightsDropping term limits will allow Xi Jinping to stay on as China’s President indefinitely But analysts warn his absolute control could backfire in the instance of a crisis or economic shock
Hong Kong (CNN)The announcement Sunday that China will drop term limits on the presidency clears the way for Xi Jinping to rule the country indefinitely.
However, analysts warned that what initially seems like a demonstration of absolute power could actually be a sign of weakness, with Xi apparently unwillingly to allow the rise of a potential political rival. This could lead to future instability in the world’s most populous country as wannabe successors jockey for power within a Communist Party (CCP) completely dominated by Xi.And his absolute authority will also leave him vulnerable to absolute blame in the instance of an economic shock or foreign policy crisis. The latter could be increasingly likely, as Xi’s rule so far has been characterized by a more bullish military and diplomatic policy as China seeks to move into a power vacuum left in Asia by a retreating Washington. JUST WATCHEDXi Jinping’s rise to power (2017)ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Xi Jinping’s rise to power (2017) 01:53Read MoreFactional politicsFollowing Mao Zedong’s death in 1976– in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, during which tens of thousands of people were killed and the country was racked by civil war — his successors moved away from one-man rule towards a consensus system where power was shared by a handful of high-ranking Party officials. This resulted in relatively straightforward transition of power from Presidents Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping, after each served two five-year terms in office. Early in Xi’s first term however, it became apparent he would seek to buck this trend. He was declared “core leader” of the Party, and state media began building up his public image with the type of hagiography not seen since Mao. This culminated with “Xi Jinping Thought” being added to the Party constitution last year, at a key meeting in which Xi failed to nominate an obvious successor, fueling speculation he would stay on as leader past 2023. Margaret Lewis, a law professor and expert on China’s constitution at Seton Hall University, said under Xi “what we’ve seen is an increasing lack of sharing of power even among the top leadership.””Xi’s modus operandi is consolidation of power,” she said. That could pose a problem to him in the long run. While Chinese politics is not remotely democratic in the traditional sense, there are certain checks and balances within the Party system itself, with reformers and conservatives seeing their power and influence waxing and waning over time. Jon Sullivan, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, said Xi remaining as President and head of state, “negates the institutionalization of power transitions that have served the Party well for 35 years, enabling it to avoid damaging schisms that have plagued other Communist regimes.” While many internal CCP matters happen are a black box, most experts agree that there are factions within the party — such as the so-called “Shanghai clique” around former President Jiang Zemin. Some have argued Xi’s far-reaching anti-graft campaign is itself a tool to go after factional enemies and potential rivals. That anti-corruption campaign will also get a boost with upcoming constitutional changes due to create a National Supervision Commission (NSC) with sweeping new enforcement powers, potentially affecting a much greater swath of China’s population. Message to enemiesRichard McGregor, author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers,” wrote after Sunday’s announcement that it “sends a warning to his legion of enemies at the top of the party who have been hit by the anti-corruption campaign: he is not going anywhere.” “Xi’s ability to push this decision through in the short-term is undoubtedly a display of his grip on all levers of power,” McGregor wrote. “But the very fact that he feels the need to do so could easily be a sign of something else — that he is possessed by an urgency to gather even more power than he already has to keep his enemies at bay.” This could result in increased pushback from within the Party, as those who had hoped to weather the Xi storm now have no option but to fight against him out of self-preservation. According to Sullivan, term limits not only restrict the power of individual leaders, they give other elites and factions the consolation that there would be an opportunity to change the status quo after two terms. “That ‘consolation’ is an important pressure valve that prevents crippling inner party battles. By getting rid of it, Xi is banking on being able to contain and neutralize his opponents,” said Sullivan.But doing so, Sullivan added, “will necessitate greater levels of repression, both in society and within the Party-state.” Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingChinese President Xi Jinping speaks in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Wednesday, October 25, as the new lineup was unveiled for the Chinese Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. The new lineup did not include an heir apparent to Xi, who analysts predict will dominate the country’s politics for decades to come.Hide Caption 1 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXI, left, stands with his father, Xi Zhongxun, and his younger brother, Xi Yuanping, in 1958. Xi Zhongxun was a communist revolutionary who held several positions in the National People’s Congress.Hide Caption 2 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingFrom 1969 to 1975, Xi worked as an agricultural laborer in Liangjiahe, China. He was among the millions of urban youths who were “sent down,” forced to leave cities to work as laborers in the countryside.Hide Caption 3 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi, right, poses for a photo as a college student in 1977.Hide Caption 4 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingA 1979 photo of Xi as he worked for the general office of the Central Military Commission. From 1979 to 1982, Xi was the personal secretary for Defense Minister Geng Biao.Hide Caption 5 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi listens to villagers in north China’s Zhengding County in 1983. At the time, he was secretary of the Zhengding County Committee.Hide Caption 6 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi poses for a photo as he sits in his office in 1983.Hide Caption 7 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi — in the back row, second from right — poses with a group in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1985. As part of an agricultural delegation, he was making his first trip to the United States.Hide Caption 8 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi receives a key to the city from Muscatine Mayor Gerald Powell.Hide Caption 9 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi visits San Francisco in 1985.Hide Caption 10 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi and his new wife, folk singer Peng Liyuan, pose for a photo on China’s Dongshan Island in 1987.Hide Caption 11 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi, as the Communist Party secretary of Ningde, China, participates in farm work in 1988.Hide Caption 12 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi and Peng in 1989.Hide Caption 13 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi, left, meets with citizens of Fuzhou, China, in 1993. He was the city’s party secretary from 1990-1996.Hide Caption 14 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi, front left, helps reinforce a levee of the Minjiang River in 1995.Hide Caption 15 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi meets with Wu Poh-hsiung, vice president of the opposition party Kuomintang, in 2000. From 1996-2002, Xi held various posts in China’s Fujian Province, including governor.Hide Caption 16 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingAs Shanghai’s party secretary in 2007, Xi welcomes former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Pepsi President and CEO Indra Krishanamurthy Nooyi.Hide Caption 17 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi talks with hearing-impaired students at a school in Shanghai in 2007.Hide Caption 18 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi brings blankets to a villager after ice storms in 2008. That year, Xi became China’s vice president.Hide Caption 19 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi kicks a soccer ball in 2008 as he inspects a field in Qinhuangdao, China. The stadium was hosting games during the 2008 Summer Olympics.Hide Caption 20 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi chats with former US President Jimmy Carter in 2009. Carter was attending a Beijing dinner that celebrated 30 years of US-China relations.Hide Caption 21 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi feeds swans during an official visit to Hungary in 2009.Hide Caption 22 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi and US Vice President Joe Biden inspect an honor-guard contingent during a welcoming ceremony in Beijing in 2011.Hide Caption 23 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi pushes his father as he walks with his wife and his daughter, Xi Mingze, in 2012.Hide Caption 24 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi became China’s President in March 2013. Here, he walks with US President Barack Obama before a bilateral meeting in Rancho Mirage, California, in June 2013.Hide Caption 25 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi meets with former US President Bill Clinton in Beijing in 2013.Hide Caption 26 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi visits Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, in 2014.Hide Caption 27 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi and Peng pose with the Obamas before a state dinner in Washington in 2015.Hide Caption 28 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi has dinner with US President Donald Trump at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in April 2017.Hide Caption 29 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi shakes hands with teachers and students while visiting a university in Beijing in May 2017.Hide Caption 30 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi inspects a military garrison in Hong Kong in June 2017.Hide Caption 31 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Moscow in July 2017.Hide Caption 32 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingXi, center, attends the closing session of the 19th National Congress in October 2017.Hide Caption 33 of 34 Photos: Chinese President Xi JinpingUS President Donald Trump and XI take part in a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on Thursday, November 9, 2017, in Beijing during Trump’s visit to Asia. Hide Caption 34 of 34Repression and tyranny Some of that repression was on show in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, when a flurry of discussion and criticism on Chinese social media was swiftly censored and controlled. Comments on posts by state broadcaster CCTV announcing the news were deleted, as were those on the People’s Daily newspaper and Xinhua news agency, and searches for key terms were blocked. According to watchdog service FreeWeibo, top searches ahead of the blocking including “ascension to the throne,” “term limits” and “Winnie the Pooh,” a reference to the cartoon character which has become a mocking symbol of Xi on the Chinese internet. Results for some of those topics on Weibo itself appeared to be being actively filtered, while others returned the message “search results are not shown in accordance with relevant laws, regulations and policies.” One term being completely censored was “Yuan Shikai,” the former President of the Republic of China who dissolved a democratically-elected parliament in 1913 and appointed himself emperor. A statement signed by a dozen leading Chinese dissidents, including former Tiananmen Square protest leaders Wang Dan and Wu’er Kaixi, also referenced the short-lived reign of the “Hongxian Emperor.” “We believe that the abolition of (term limits) is the equivalent of Yuan Shikai’s revival of the imperial dynasty, it is the implementation of a new imperial system,” the statement said. History shows, they added, that lifelong “supreme rule and tyranny are inseparable and will surely bring great disasters to the country and its people.” JUST WATCHEDChina cracks down on ‘Winnie the Pooh’ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
China cracks down on ‘Winnie the Pooh’ 01:01Great power, great responsibilityWhile Xi’s immediate grip on power is in little doubt, enabling him to enact whatever reforms and policies he desires, analysts warned that if things go south, he will have little room to avoid blame. “If ‘consolidation of power’ was a precondition for implementing his reform program and leading the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, that condition has now been met and he needs to deliver,” said Sullivan.”And, if he doesn’t deliver and refuses to go quietly, well that’s a scenario we’ve seen play out in other regimes many times before,” said SullivanA key test may come from outside China. Nowhere has Xi’s new bullish leadership been more obvious than in China’s foreign and military policy.In the South China Sea, Beijing has continued the militarization of islands, reefs and islets in defiance of an international court ruling.Last year, the People’s Liberation Army — reform and modernization of which has been a key Xi policy — engaged in a months-long stand off with Indian troops over the disputed territory of Doklam, in the Himalayas, and China has sought to increase its military and economic influence in South Asia. Under Xi, China has also taken a much tougher line on Taiwan. Beijing considers the self-ruled island, officially the Republic of China, part of its territory, and has not ruled out military action to reclaim it, even as support for full-independence from the mainland has grown among Taiwanese. Tom Rafferty, a China expert at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said China’s “move in an authoritarian direction will harden the divisions that have emerged between it and the major western powers, pointing to heightened international tensions over security and economic policy in the coming years.” And if the Chinese economy under-performs or in an event of a foreign policy crisis like Taiwan, Xi’s political strengths could quickly translate into liability, analysts warned. For now, Rafferty said, “Xi is set to lead China until he dies, chooses to step down, or is purged.”