National People's Congress

Delegates endorse lifting term limits for China's presidency

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at the NPC session. Mr Li delivered a work report listing key tasks such as restructuring the economy. Stewardesses at Tiananmen Square before the opening of the first session of the 13th National People's
Stewardesses at Tiananmen Square before the opening of the first session of the 13th National People's Congress in Beijing yesterday. Improving the people's well-being was given special mention at the session, with strategies including boosting employment and increasing incomes.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at the NPC session. Mr Li delivered a work report listing key tasks such as restructuring the economy. Stewardesses at Tiananmen Square before the opening of the first session of the 13th National People's
President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at the NPC session. Mr Li delivered a work report listing key tasks such as restructuring the economy.PHOTO: REUTERS

They support controversial move that would allow Xi to stay on as president indefinitely

Chinese parliamentarians yesterday resoundingly endorsed leaders' justification for removing term limits for the state presidency, which will allow Mr Xi Jinping to stay on as president indefinitely.

The delegates of the National People's Congress (NPC) applauded as the proposed term-limit amendment was read out by Mr Wang Chen, secretary-general of the current parliamentary session.

"In asking for opinions and researching at the grassroots level, many regions and departments and the vast majority of party members and cadres unanimously called for the revision of the relevant provisions for the term of office of the president," Mr Wang said.

Among the changes in the proposal presented at the opening of the annual NPC session was one to remove the stipulation that the president and vice-president shall serve no more than two five-year terms.

It noted that the positions of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary and chairman of the state and party Central Military Commissions - posts that Mr Xi concurrently holds - do not have term limits.

"In adopting the same practice for the position of state president in the Constitution, it would uphold the authority of the party's Central Committee with comrade Xi Jinping at its core and centralise and unify the leadership," said the proposal. "This will be beneficial to strengthening and completing the state leadership system."

This proposed change has proven controversial.

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Some Chinese have criticised it on social media, saying that by removing a rule that curbs the power of the top leader, the amendment could lead to future chaos.

Professor Steve Tsang of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London called it "unnecessary and unwise".

He said it had little practical advantage apart from allowing Mr Xi to make state visits overseas after 2023 when his second term ends, but would reduce the scope for internal debate and so increase the risk of making mistakes.

Other proposed changes include those that give cities greater legislative powers, allow for the setting up of a powerful anti-graft super agency to deal with corruption, and expand the function of the Cabinet to include ecological advancement.

A work report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang was also heard at the meeting.

This being the first session of the 13th NPC that was elected between last October and last month, the report spanned the five years of the previous Parliament from 2013.

Among the key tasks were the restructuring of the economy to move away from export-led manufacturing to services, domestic consumption and high-tech manufacturing; tackling serious air, water and soil pollution with the number of bad air days in key cities being halved in the five-year period; poverty alleviation with 68 million people lifted out of poverty; and balancing development among rich and poor regions.

Mr Li set new targets, with gross domestic product growth set at around 6.5 per cent - after last year's 6.9 per cent - as the country aims for high-quality growth over the high-speed growth of yesteryear.

The government is set to deepen reforms, including developing new growth drivers through innovation, making state-owned firms more efficient and competitive, and making it easier to do business by cutting taxes and non-tax burdens like administrative fees and highway tolls.

Improving the people's well-being, an objective of economic growth, was also given special mention. This included boosting employment and increasing the people's income, providing "fair, high-quality" education, improving public healthcare and addressing the people's housing needs by rejuvenating rundown urban areas and providing ample and affordable housing.

"Our aim is to help people feel more satisfied, happier and more secure," said Mr Li.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline 'Delegates endorse lifting term limits for China's presidency'. Print Edition | Subscribe