China to enshrine 'Xi Thought' in Constitution

Move a sign of Chinese leader's grip on power, paves way for powerful anti-graft law

President Xi Jinping's political theory will be enshrined in China's Constitution, top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders said at the close of a two-day meeting in Beijing, the latest sign of Mr Xi's power consolidation.

The state Constitution will also be amended to provide a legal basis for a new anti-graft law that China's Parliament is expected to pass in March.

Once it is passed, a powerful agency - the National Supervision Commission - will be set up and have oversight of not only party members but also all public servants.

The CCP Central Committee, in a communique issued yesterday through Xinhua news agency, said that amending the state Constitution is necessary given that "socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era", with important developments having taken place since the last amendment in 2004.

Chief among these is the development of Xi Jinping Thought, which the CCP adopted into its party charter at the 19th Party Congress last October.

"The plenum emphasised that Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era represents the latest achievement of Marxism in China, is contemporary Marxism in China, is 21st century Marxism, and is the guiding ideology that the party and the state must uphold for a long time," it said.

Political watchers noted that the swift adoption - in a matter of months - of Xi Jinping Thought into both Constitution documents showed how much power is concentrated in Mr Xi's hands.

In contrast, both his predecessors saw their pet political theories added to the state Constitution only after leaving office. Mr Hu Jintao's Scientific Outlook on Development, for example, will be included only with the latest changes.

The Central Committee's communique also gave an explanation on why China needs the new anti-graft National Supervision Commission, which will wield unprecedented powers.

Amending the state Constitution requires Parliament's formal approval, which means that it is likely to also take place in March, when the national legislature convenes.

Scholars within the Chinese legal community have said that the draft law contradicts the state Constitution, as it positions the new authority as the highest national supervisory organ, above even the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

The communique said that reform of the state supervisory mechanism is a "major policymaking plan" to enhance the party's self-supervision, but stopped short of detailing the exact amendment.

"It is necessary to establish a centralised, authoritative and efficient national surveillance system to achieve full surveillance coverage of all public officers who exercise public authority," it said.

Despite Mr Xi having strengthened his grip on power, persistent speculation that he would use a constitutional amendment to extend or do away with term limits to the state presidency did not come to pass.

China's Constitution limits the presidency to two terms, which means that Mr Xi will step down in 2023.

Chinese University of Hong Kong analyst Willy Lam said Mr Xi could still do so in the next few years, but this was unlikely as there would be significant political cost to making another amendment so soon.

There have been just four amendments to the state Constitution since it was adopted in 1982.

Said Professor Lam: "Xi might decide not to do it after all, because for them to play fast and loose with constitutional changes demonstrates very strongly that political exigencies are what motivate changes to the Constitution, and will show that the document is just the handmaiden of party politics."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'China to enshrine 'Xi Thought' in Constitution'. Print Edition | Subscribe