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Why China wants to empower Xi Jinping more

A magpie flies from a flagpole in Beijing's Tiananmen Square a day before the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on March 2, 2018.
When President Xi Jinping attends the National People's Congress, he will swear an oath to uphold China's constitution. But first, he will remake it in his own image, legally formalising his almost limitless mandate to bend the nation to his will. / AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER

A magpie flies from a flagpole in Beijing's Tiananmen Square a day before the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on March 2, 2018. When President Xi Jinping attends the National People's Congress, he will swear an oath to uphold China's constitution. But first, he will remake it in his own image, legally formalising his almost limitless mandate to bend the nation to his will. / AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER   | Photo Credit: AFP

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What did the party propose?

The proposal by the Communist Party of China (CPC) on February 25 to lift the two-term limit on the tenure of the President and the Vice-President has evoked a high-voltage response, at home and abroad. Theoretically, it means China’s top leader Xi Jinping can remain President for life. The implications of the attempt, likely to be formalised in the session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s Parliament, on March 5 has resonated deeply in the Chinese collective psyche.

Many see the move as the formal closure of the Deng Xiaoping era, which began in the aftermath of the death of Chinese patriarch Mao Zedong, and the beginning of a neoauthoritarian era of President Xi.

Hoping to prevent another disaster, during which millions perished, especially in the Cultural Revolution, which Mao could steer with his unrivalled grip on political power, Deng introduced new constitutional rules. One of them was cementing a two-term limit on the presidency. This was done in the hope that a collective leadership, rather than an ultra-powerful individual — susceptible to the pursuit of a Mao-style personality cult — would steer China’s post-reform destiny.

Is it a matter of concern?

Overseas, there has been an outpouring of concern ranging from ideology — China extinguishing hopes of an on-the-road-to-democracy western style political reform — to the geopolitical. Would China now amplify its “hegemonic” military assertion in the South China Sea, South Asia and possibly the Indian Ocean not far away?

Why was this step taken?

There appear to be at least three broad themes that may explain China’s decision to empower Mr. Xi indefinitely. First, China’s transition into one of the most powerful nations in the world is still very much a work-in-progress. Its shift from the workshop-of-the world to a manufacturer of advanced digitally enabled high-end products, leveraging Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Big Data is yet to reach adolescence.

The overheated economy has to be de-leveraged to prevent a hard landing, even if it means a fairly sharp decline in the Gross Domestic Product rates. Besides, Mr. Xi’s trademark Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to reinforce Beijing’s geoeconomic and arguably geopolitical heft, just out of the incubator, is encountering teething troubles. It would, therefore, take years — perhaps decades — for Mr. Xi to complete China’s economic transition, including railing the BRI, which plans to industrialise Eurasia through massive investments in infrastructure and connectivity.

Will he deliver?

Mr. Xi’s half-finished anti-corruption drive may also require continuity in leadership. A new anti-corruption National Supervisory Commission, which will be established at the session of the NPC, will hunt corrupt “tigers” and “flies,” not-only in the CPC but also in the vastly expanding private sector. The modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is also at a critical stage. Mr. Xi’s firm hand may be required for long to rid the PLA of corruption. Already the anti-corruption drive has led to the firing of over 100 Generals. That means Mr. Xi has to complete the task of re-anchoring the PLA, immune to the possible blow-back by an army of disgruntled individuals who no longer can board the gravy train, on account of the deep military reforms.

There may be a personality factor that may have persuaded Mr. Xi, who is also general secretary of the CPC and head of the Central Military Commission, to take the gamble of staying in power indefinitely.

By all accounts, Mr. Xi is a risk-taker. During his first term, he skated on thin ice to confront powerful region-based factions in the CPC. His recent focus on eliminating poverty by 2020 appears to have gone down well among former migrant workers, many of whom are returning to the countryside, as the old economy declines. With these seemingly popular moves, Mr. Xi is likely to have built impressive domestic political capital, which he may now be ready to leverage by opting for an open-ended tenure in office.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 11:25:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/why-china-wants-to-empower-xi-jinping-more/article22920366.ece

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