Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Hey! What About Term Limits for the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping??

In my most recent China Watch video for Newsbud, I have some fun with the ostentatious handwringing and concern trolling the West concerning the CCP proposal to abolish term limits for the presidency of the PRC.

Here’s the trailer!

The video offers my unique take on U.S. presidential term limits, one that I think is surprising and revealing.  That’s a teaser, folks.  Go to to subscribe and take a look.

In interest of time and in consideration of the general-interest audience, Newsbud edited out the inside-baseball slice of my video that discussed the real issue behind the presidency dustup: Xi Jinping’s move to affirm a succession protocol for party General Secretary that could give him three or more terms, instead of the two terms that have been customary for the last couple decades.

Here’s the script for the bit that pretty much got dropped:

Long story short, the primary significance of the proposed abolition of term limits for presidency of the PRC is that it essentially confirms that Xi Jinping is going to go for at least one additional term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.

 And where it counts, inside the Chinese Communist Party, there are no term limits.  Not really.

The reported rule of thumb for membership in the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of collective leadership in the Party and the pool from which party general secretaries are selected, was “seven up/eight down.” It meant that cadres 67 years and under could advance to the Standing Committee and have a shot at becoming general secretary; those 68 and older should retire.   This rule was supposedly instituted by party secretary Jiang Zemin in 2002.  

Actually, the rule was a rather special interpretation of the principle of generational renewal of the CCP leadership cadre ever ten years instituted by Deng Xiaoping because, to put it bluntly, Jiang Zemin wanted to screw a political rival, Li Ruihuan, who happened to be 68 years old.

Xi Jinping will turn 68 on June 15, 2021—a year before his second term as party secretary ends—so it’s understandable his people have been debunking the seven up/eight down rule to the press for some time.

Folklore, I tell you!

More to the point, perhaps, for China every CCP general secretary before Xi Jinping had been selected or prepositioned by Deng Xiaoping.  That includes Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping’s predecessor, who finished up as general secretary in 2012—fifteen years after Deng Xiaoping died.

Given the historical context of CCP succession strategies and China’s new situation in the world, I would guess that Xi Jinping has had some success in selling the idea inside the Party that he’s tweaking the system to reflect current realities, not overturning an iron-clad norm.

The flurry of leaks and criticism of the PRC presidential term limits move is, I expect, a surrogate for dismay that Xi Jinping views his tenure as General Secretary as open-ended and that his view is apparently prevailing inside the CCP.

Carping about presidential term limits in the public sphere might reflect more of a “go for broke” attitude by opponents who feel that the intra-Party debate isn’t going their way.  What the heck? If Xi is going to lock in the job Party Secretary for the next decade, there’s nothing to be gained by staying silent and little lost by speaking up now.

So anti-Xi Jinping voices are now more willing to blab and turn Western journos largely shut out of news about CCP internal matters into instant experts on the precariousness of Xi’s rule.

If the domestic and international hubbub forces Xi to climb down on term limits revision, he will have certainly suffered a major setback.

But I think the odds are against it.

For what it’s worth, I regard critics of Xi Jinping’s ambitions for prolonging his stint as Party Secretary fall into a few categories:

People inside and outside the party who don’t like Xi’s plan to manage the PRC through an increasingly activist, pro-active, and intrusive CCP;

People inside the party who prefer the collectivist leadership model (and the ability of cadres to make political and financial hay by leveraging their loyalties without worrying overmuch about threats to their political power and economic interests) to a powerful, if not Mao-like General Secretary;

People who have no big problem with big-leader rule but prefer it wouldn’t be implemented by Xi Jinping.  I guess there are some dead enders who hope that Bo Xilai will get sprung from prison and lead the CCP to glory, but don’t know if there’s anybody else out there.

My thesis is that Xi Jinping’s case for a powerful CCP bossman unhampered by term limits may be self-serving but it also has enough merit for the party as a whole to acquiesce.
There’s a miasma of crisis, corruption, and drift surrounding the PRC and the CCP, and Xi Jinping’s long war to renovate the CCP as an instrument of effective technocratic rule in an era of significant national challenge might be seen to deserve another decade to succeed (or fail so utterly that the approach will be discredited).


Godfree Roberts said...

Bravo!! America has term limits for the same reason the Chinese do: both countries' governing elites found that their most capable leaders–Roosevelt and Mao–were sympathetic to ordinary citizens–who returned their affections.

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