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China launches propaganda push for Xi after criticism on social media

The ruling Communist Party on Sunday proposed to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office, meaning Xi Jinping, who also heads the party and the military, might never have to retire.

world Updated: Feb 26, 2018 16:44 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
Xi Jinping,Communist Party,China
The ruling Communist Party has proposed removing a limit of two consecutive terms for the country’s president and vice president. If approved, the move will lay the groundwork for party leader Xi Jinping to rule as president beyond 2023.(AP File Photo)

China on Monday launched an intensive propaganda campaign in support of a proposal to removal the two-term limit for President Xi Jinping, publishing lengthy editorials after the move was criticised on social media.

On Sunday, the Communist Party of China proposed to remove a clause in the Constitution that limits the term of the president to two consecutive terms, triggering speculation that Xi will continue as president after the end of his term in 2022. And despite his popularity, the move was roundly criticised in China, with many comparing the Chinese president to neighbour North Korea.

“Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” Reuters quoted one Weibo user, where the Kim dynasty has ruled since the late 1940s.

“We’re following the example of our neighbour,” wrote another user quoted by Reuters.

By Sunday night, all comments criticising the move were removed from social media and users were unable to search the phrase “two-term”.

Official media also started vociferously backing the move.

An editorial in the nationalistic tabloid Global Times said: “Over the past two decades, a trinity of leadership consisting of the CPC Central Committee general secretary, president of the nation and chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission has taken shape and proven to be effective.”

It added that removing the two-term limit can help maintain the “trinity system and improve the institution of leadership of the CPC and the nation”.

Unusually, the ministry of foreign affairs also stepped in, saying amending the Constitution was what the people of China wanted. Spokesperson Lu Kang said that everybody can see that the Constitution has been “continuously improved” since 1954, when it was first adopted.

“I hope everyone can acknowledge the voice of all the Chinese people,” Lu said.

The proposal, however, has triggered worry among China watchers. Analysts and activists say Xi’s continuing in power after 2022 could mean further weakening of human rights, tightening of political control and wider surveillance.

“Let’s be clear about what #China #Xi staying in power means: more #torture. No legal reform. Near-total surveillance. Permanent brutality against ethnic and religious minorities, peaceful critics. And global ambitions,” Sophie Richardson from Human Rights Watch tweeted.

Experts also feel the move would lead to China being more assertive on the global stage, with Beijing attempting to fill the vacuum created by Washington under Donald Trump.

An assertive China also means that Beijing could be more forceful in territorial disputes, including in claiming areas along the long and festering border problem with India. If there is another military standoff with India – like the one in Doklam last year – the resolution and disengagement will unlikely be as diplomatic as it was in 2017.

First Published: Feb 26, 2018 08:11 IST