Gordon G. Chang
Xi’s grab for absolute power has captured the attention of the world.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency on Sunday reported that the Communist Party’s Central Committee has recommended the scrapping of the country’s two-term limit for the office of president of the Chinese state.
If the National People’s Congress adopts the measure at its annual meeting this month—passage looks likely despite increasingly stiff internal resistance—Xi Jinping will be eligible for a third term in 2023 as well, of course, for successive ones. At the moment, he has not yet completed his first.
The ending of the presidential limit is by no means the most significant move China’s bold leader has made to consolidate power over the past year. It is, however, the one that has triggered widespread condemnation, in China and elsewhere. And it could eventually lead to the end of communist rule in that country.
By itself, the end of this term limit is relatively unimportant. If China’s presidency, largely a ceremonial post, has any significance, it allows Xi to deal with national leaders who are squeamish about interacting with someone with only party posts.
Xi’s real power rests on two other roles comprising “the trinity system.” His most important position is general secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. There are no term limits on that post. Xi is in his second five-year term as the head of China’s ruling organization.
The last component of the trinity is the chairmanship of the Party’s Central Military Commission, another position without term limits.
Xi, for the moment, holds all three positions. And he obviously wants to continue doing so. The most far-reaching development in Chinese politics in recent years is that at the 19th Communist Party National Congress, held last October, Xi broke convention by preventing the designation of a successor. He did that by making sure no one who might follow him was named to the Politburo Standing Committee.
Moreover, as John Pomfret pointed out in the Washington Post, Xi actually targeted an up-and-coming figure, Sun Zhengcai from Chongqing, by having him detained for “serious discipline violations,” the code phrase for corruption, ahead of the 19th Congress.