By Campaign Agent Oli Ratcliffe
China is familiar with having a one-man ruler. But long gone are the days of China's most famous leader, General Mao, who ruthlessly suppressed his opposition, and oversaw a regime that led to the deaths of millions of innocent civilians. Today, China is ambitious and dedicated to achieving the "Chinese Dream" under President Xi Jinping. But will a limitless term enable President Xi Jinping to "strengthen and improve China's leadership"? And how troubled should the rest of the world be by the rise of this seemingly invincible leader?
What were the amendments?
Last week the National People's Congress approved an amendment to remove presidential term limits, meaning that the incumbent Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, can stay in office indefinitely. A pivotal moment in Chinese history, that its supporters will see as a signal of strength and stability for China in years to come. Its critics however, may well draw on Xi Jinping's recent shortcomings, and tremble at the thought of limitless terms...
Why would President Xi abolish term limits?
There's no doubt that President Xi has a strong following, and has clamped down on crucial areas where his party, the Communist Party of China (CPC), have been criticised for many years. He undoubtedly seems himself as the man to rid the CPC of the "tigers and flies" that have riddled the party with a range of scandals, including bribery and abuse of power.
However, critics of China's most prominent figure say that this is nothing more than an attempt to rid the party of his opponents, dressed up as righteousness. Xi has not exactly navigated the corruption scandal in a subtle way, with many high-profile names being humiliated and imprisoned. Therefore, the longer he stays in power, the longer it will be until his opponents come back to haunt him.
More evidence of President Xi's fragility is shown by his hard-line stance to dissenting voices elsewhere. Despite his insistence that China has an "open attitude" to the global internet, his controls on internet freedom and censorship have drawn much criticism. Access to international websites such as Google, Facebook and YouTube are highly restricted, and even images of Winnie the Pooh were made illegal due to an image appearing to link the two figures together. President Xi is an advocate of 'internet sovereignty', whereby the state has control over what freedom their populace has on internet access. 'Internet sovereignty' unquestionably stifles the views of any opposition, and no doubt his abolition of term limits is nurturing this same fear.
As ever, when talking about the leader of a superpower such as China, you must take into account the effects of their foreign policy. Take Vietnam for example, who have a long lasting dispute with the Chinese over control of the South China Sea. They recently welcomed a visit from a US Navy carrier, where thousands of sailors visited the coastal town of Da Nang, in what was the largest US presence in the country since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. The Americans visited schools in the area, performing songs for children with disabilities from the devastating Agent Orange used during the war. This visit seems to signal how both nations are attempting to move on from those dark times of conflict. Moreover, it is a clear signal that the US, a fellow super-power, are not afraid to cosy up to Vietnam at a time where tensions in the South China sea are at an all-time high, and Xi Jinping is consolidating his grip on power in China.
And of course, with Putin's recent victory, we can expect the China/Russia relationship to flourish even further, as both of these ostensibly powerful leaders have consolidated their positions of power. Both countries have a nationalist outlook, but are united in their outsider status and assertiveness in their own ideal, contrary to those of the West. Under Xi's rule, China has become Russia's largest trading partner and one of their most valuable economic allies. In a time where Russia's relationship with the rest of Europe is becoming more hostile, (including our own), both these traditional 'strong-man' leaders continue to make advances.
And where does North Korea lie in the Xi dynasty? China is North Korea's most vital trading partner and have helped sustain Kim Jong-Un's regime. However, President Xi was quick to meet South Korea's new President Moon Jae In last year, but has yet to meet Kim Jong-Un. Professor Oriana Skylar Mastro of Georgetown University even goes as far to say that if the Korean peninsula faces nuclear conflict, President Xi's China will not jump to the defence of North Korea, and would rather shape a "post Kim peninsula to its liking".
Ultimately, the leadership and stability of China is of crucial importance to international politics. Now we know that President Xi will likely be around for a while, it's important to analyse his past to forecast what China's future might look like. There's no doubt he is ambitious over his country's capabilities going forward, but if he fails in his ambitions, will the people of China be able to stop him? It is still early days, and Xi Jinping's lessons learnt from history may well prohibit him from a lifetime of leadership.
Sources and Further Reading:
- 'China's President Xi Jinping reappointed with no term limits', Sky News (17 March 2018)
- Jamie Fullerton, 'China has open attitude to internet, says President Xi Jinping', The Times (4 December 2017)
- James Griffiths, 'China ready to fight 'bloody-battle agianst its enemies', CNN (20 March 2018)
- Johnny Wordsworth, 'The Salisbury Attack, Put Simply', TalkPolitics (16 March 2018)
- Hans Spross, 'The Chinese Dream and Xi Jinping's Power Politics', DW (27 December 2017)
- Tania Branigan, 'Xi Jinping vows to fight 'tigers' and 'flies' in anti-corruption drive', The Guardian (22 January 2013)
- Bennett Murray, 'US navy carrier's Vietnam visit signals closer ties amid China tensions', The Guardian (11 March 2018)
- Ben Brimelow, 'Winnie the Pooh memes are getting banned on social media after China announces Xi Jinping may stay in power for life', Business Insider UK (27 February 2018)
- Deng Yuwen, 'China’s president for life? Not Xi Jinping, a student of history' , South China Morning Post (14 March 2018)
- Chow Chung-yan and Jun Mai, 'China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are putting strongman politics back on the map', South China Morning Post (17 March 2018)
- Charlie Campbell, 'China’s Lurch Toward One-Man Rule Under Xi Jinping Should Worry Us All', Time (26 February 2018)
- Oriana Skylar Mastro, 'Why China Won’t Rescue North Korea', Foreign Affairs (February 2018)
Image: UN Women @Flickr