by Vladimir Kljajić

In March 2018, China’s National People’s Congress amended the Constitution and allowed the President to hold office for more than the 10 years which was put in force in the Mao Zedong era. Is this a step backwards from democracy or a step forward towards a more efficient way to govern one of the world’s power?

Mr. Xi Jinping was born in 1953, in Beijing, to a Communist party leader who served as deputy Prime Minister in the late 1950s, but because of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in 1966, his father was purged and Xi had to start his life in a rural village far from Beijing. In 1975, Xi was allowed to return to Beijing where he started his studies, and party activism. In 2007, he was promoted to top leader of Shanghai, and in 2013 he took the President’s office. The transition from a provincial politician to China’s paramount leader was very fast. Nevertheless, today’s Xi often quotes Mao Zedong, which is a big contradiction, considering his family’s tragedy and his liberal economic policy.

In march 2018, in a carefully choreographed gathering of the members of the Communist Party of China, Mr. Xi Jinping was re-elected as the President of China and Parliament removed Presidential term limits. During the speech of the Premier Li Keqiang, in his 45-page address, he mentioned comrade Xi Jinping 18 times followed by pro-government propaganda coverage that overwhelmingly endorsed the end of limits on life tenure. The narrative is that it will ensure the stability at the very top echelon of the Chinese leadership and that it’s not only good for China but also for the world.

Mr. Xi Jinping, for now, has shown several faces to the world. From the protagonist of free trade, anti-corruption campaigning, the creator of the ‘’Chinese dream’’ and the promoter of Chinese nationalism but also a Mao-style rule when it comes to dealing with opponents and media freedom. In the recently released World Press Freedom Index, published by Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), China is ranked 176 out of 180 countries, just a few places above North Korea—and President Xi is referred to as; “the planet’s leading censor and press freedom predator.” The Washington Post published a very interesting article titled ‘’China sends its top actors and directors back to socialism school’’. In December 2017, more than 100 of the nation’s top filmmakers, actors and pop stars were gathered for a day in the city of Hangzhou to be told exactly what that meant in practice, and to study the spirit of the 19th Party Congress, where Xi gave that speech and set out his “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” Cynics would call this dictatorship with Chinese characteristics.

Many think that the concentration of power in the hands of one person is highly unstable and represents a serious step backwards. In 1982. Mr. Deng Xiaoping and lawmakers approved a new Constitution which introduced limits on life tenure, and limits on terms, emphasising on collective responsibility. However, as New York Times noted, Mr. Xi showed his intent to stay in power last year, by refusing to promote a potential successor into the new Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s most powerful body.

China’s Autocratic system of governance definitely faces a new era, shaped into one man from a one-party rule to a one-man rule. Western systems have become a taboo in China in recent years. The New York Times reported that in March, some bars in Beijing said they have been told by the local police to not let in more than 10 foreigners at a time until March 22, after the end of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp Parliament. Mr. Xi aims to lead China’s national rejuvenation, by rebuilding China’s military. The changes regarding to term limit are embracing more repressive tactics at home, and aggressive foreign policies abroad.

China’s internal problems are becoming more acute. Tensions are rising. The Hukou system, that is a governmental household registration system is producing more and more inequality. This is because it limits where a person is allowed to live, especially if one is born into a rural hukou – attempting to change to a more attractive residence or to an urban hukou can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. There are an estimated 282 million rural migrant workers in China.

Unfortunately, China looks nothing like the hopeful East Asian transition stories of South Korea and Taiwan. In his recent book, ‘China’s Future? (2016)’, China scholar David Shambaugh ranks two scenarios to be the most probable: Hard Authoritarianism or Soft Authoritarianism. Viewing Xi Jinping as a deeply conservative leader, he assesses that it is more likely that Hard Authoritarianism will continue to dominate.

On a positive side, ending term limit is good for long-term planning because Mr. Xi is here to stay for the foreseen future. We got it wrong when we thought in something that the Dalai Lama said; ‘’China has to go along with world trends. That is democracy, liberty, individual freedom. China sooner or later has to go that way. It cannot go backward.’’, but it looks like it does not have to and it will not.

23 April 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 72