Mixed reactions over Chinese President Xi Jinping's expansion of power

A poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb 26, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - The contrast in response from state and social media to Sunday's announcement that China would repeal the two-term limit for the country's presidency was striking.

The China Daily on Monday (Feb 26) elected to run the official Xinhua report, which relegated the term-limit change to near the end of a list of 11 proposed changes to be passed by China's Parliament next month.

The nationalistic Global Times gave its full-throated endorsement, arguing in an editorial that China's experience is that concentration of power at the top of the leadership will benefit the country.

"Over the past two decades, a trinity of leadership consisting of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee general secretary, president of the nation and chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission has taken shape and proven to be effective," it said.

"To remove the two-term limit of the Chinese president can help maintain the trinity system and improve the institution of leadership of the CCP and the nation."

Netizens not enamoured with the change took to platforms like Weibo to vent their feelings, some of them in witty ways.

Images of Winnie the Pooh - a stand-in for President Xi Jinping - were particularly popular. One viral image has the bear hugging a giant pot of honey, accompanied by the words "find the thing you love and never let go".

  • The change doesn't mean that the Chinese president will have a lifelong tenure. There has been a wide consensus within and outside the CPC that since the reform and opening-up, China, led by the CPC, has succeeded and will continue to be successful in solving the power shifts of the CPC and the nation in a law-abiding and orderly manner.
    GLOBAL TIMES, in an editorial titled "Constitutional amendment will improve CPC leadership"

  • It has been proved over history that a leadership structure in which the top leader of China simultaneously serves as the President, the head of the Party, and the commander-in-chief of the military is an advantageous and adoptable strategy.
    Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth. The implementation of the structure will be conducive to the authority and centralised leadership of the CPC Central Committee, and the guidance to the country and society by the Party.
    PEOPLE'S DAILY ONLINE, in an editorial titled "China's political, institutional advantages".

  • We can see that from the first Constitution of the People's Republic of China in 1954, to the present Constitution of 1982, it is still being perfected with the progression of the times and the continuous development of the cause of the Chinese Communist Party and the people. I suggest that everyone have a positive understanding of how to better understand the continuous development of the practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics (and that foreign journalists) can face up to the wide appeal (of the amendment) to the Chinese people.

  • Our politics is now stable, everyone can relax and focus diligently on getting rich. Isn't this excellent?"

  • I sincerely support this. We can't have 'emperors take turns', this idea of a wise and mature person continuously leading the people is correct. If he's good, let him continue, if he's not, we'll change leaders. If it's just taking turns, no one will take responsibility for the end result.

Dystopian novels were another popular reference, with pictures of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World making the rounds online.

Some found humour in the news. One online wit who said his mother always insisted he should get married during Mr Xi's term of office quipped: "Now I can relax."

Not all comments were critical - a common thread among supporters was that the move would provide the political stability China needs.

"In order to achieve the great rejuvenation, we must unite Taiwan and solve the ethnic issue," said one user. "This requires a long-term and stable political party to lead all this."

China's army of online censors were quick to erase such discussions. Most of the posts - both for and against - were deleted from Weibo as of yesterday evening.

Search terms such as "ascend the throne", "restore the monarchy", "third consecutive term", and "live forever and never grow old" were also blocked.

To counter online criticism, web portals of state-linked outlets put out articles saying the masses support the change, and that the Constitution needs to evolve with the times to stay relevant and useful.

"Only by constantly adjusting to new circumstances, learning from new experiences, confirming new results, and setting new standards can the Constitution keep its long-lasting vitality," the People's Daily Online said in an editorial.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, echoing these points at a regular press conference, said the basic foundation of China's Constitution "is its continuous improvement with the development of the practice of building socialism with Chinese characteristics".

Nevertheless, the coming change unsettled some in Hong Kong, where the authorities have been grappling with a pro-democracy movement. Joshua Wong, one of the movement's leaders, said on Twitter this shows that Chinese law exists to serve the CCP's purposes.

Apple Daily, in a full-page spread anchored by an illustration of Mr Xi in dragon robes and headlined "Emperor Xi, in perpetuity", said the change violates the concept of modern political democracy.

Chinese University of Hong Kong analyst Willy Lam noted ironically that Mr Xi had promised, when he took power in 2012, a prosperous, democratic and modern socialist new China.

"If this is the prosperous, democratic China dream that Xi has been advocating, it is not only a joke but an insult to the IQ of 1.3 billion Chinese people," he told Apple Daily.

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