China defends lifting of presidential term limit

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the opening of the 13th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on March 3, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING - Removing term limits for the state president will safeguard the authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its general secretary, President Xi Jinping, a senior official said on Sunday (March 4), defending a move that has sparked widespread debate in China and elsewhere.

Explaining the proposal to abolish a rule limiting the president and vice-president to two five-year terms, Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui said it would bring the state charter in line with the CCP's Constitution, which has no term limits for the general secretary, and thus consolidate the leadership of these positions.

"It is conducive to uphold the authority of the Central Committee of the party with comrade Xi Jinping at the core and also to unify the leadership," said Mr Zhang, spokesman for the National People's Congress (NPC), China's Parliament, a day before it was due to begin its annual session.

Mr Xi, 64, concurrently holds the party posts of general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, as well as the state positions of president and chairman of the state Central Military Commission.

There are no term limits for the post of party general secretary and the chairmanship of both the party and state Central Military Commissions.

When he failed to name a potential successor to the apex Politburo Standing Committee of the CCP at the party's national congress last October, it was widely speculated that the Chinese leader planned to stay on beyond 2022, when he was due to retire at the unwritten age limit of 68 for senior party leaders.

Mr Xi's second term as president begins this year and extends to 2023.

Last month, the party's Central Committee proposed several constitutional changes that will be debated and passed during this parliamentary session, including the removal of term limits for the president and vice-president.

The proposal to reverse the term-limits rule, written into the 1982 Constitution partly in response to the excesses of the one-man rule of the Mao Zedong era, is proving controversial.

Some Chinese such as former journalist Li Datong have been critical, saying the term limit curbs the power of the country's top leader and that removing it is a step backwards which could lead to chaos.

However, United States President Donald Trump, reacting to the news, noted that Mr Xi would be president for life, which he thought was "great". He then quipped: "Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day."

The NPC annual session that begins on Monday will last two weeks, longer than the traditional 10 days because of a packed agenda.

Not only will it deliberate constitutional changes that, among other things, will stress the leadership of the CCP in China's governance, but it will also elect new state leaders including the president and premier - with Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang are expected to stay on - as well as the NPC chairman and central bank governor, among other positions.

It will also deliberate on a new reform plan for state institutions, including the Cabinet, and new laws including one to allow an anti-corruption super agency to be set up.

A key event of the session is the delivery of the annual work report by Mr Li at the opening on Monday, in which he is likely to announce highly anticipated economic growth targets for the coming year.

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