China proposes policy from Mao-era that allows presidents to serve unlimited terms

China proposes policy from Mao-era that allows presidents to serve unlimited terms
Chinese officials are proposing a change to term limits for presidents and vice presidents. That means Chinese President Xi Jinping could remain in office. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The China Communist Party wants to eliminate presidential term limits, and that means President Xi Jinping could indefinitely stay in the top office of the world’s most populous country, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

A proposal by senior officials would eliminate wording in China’s constitution that limits the president and vice president to two consecutive five-year terms, the official New China News Agency announced Sunday.

The move could make Xi the longest-running Chinese leader in decades, the report stated. It would also reverse a “collective leadership strategy” put in place after the extended reign of Mao Tse-tung, the nation’s notorious founder, the report stated. Limiting terms was “intended to ward against unchecked power.”

How big of a deal is this?

Jude Blanchette, a researcher at the Conference Board in Beijing, who is writing a book about Mao, told the Times: “This is extraordinary because it represents a real clear and fundamental break with the four-decade-long process of trying to normalize Chinese politics after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and the Mao era. It puts to rest any doubt that Xi designs to stay in office much longer than we originally thought.”

She added: “We are now dealing with a situation where the second-largest economy in the world, and arguably, the other super power, is careening pretty rapidly to de-institutionalization of the highest offices in the land. This move makes the black box of Chinese politics even more opaque.”

Does this news come as a surprise?

The news was not a surprise, as Xi did not name an heir at a twice-a-decade party congress in October, the report stated. Breaking of that precedent led analysts to speculate he might attempt to extend his term.

“This is a very dangerous proposition,” said Willy Lam, an expert on elite politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “We now have the theoretical and constitutional underpinning for an emperor for life.”

The level of Xi’s power is also reflected by Chinese leaders’ suggest to add his main themes — “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era — to the nation’s constitution.

With Xi, “what he says is the rule,” Lam told the Times.

Mao Tse-tung, also known as Mao Zedong, is famous for killing more than 45 million people in four years. They were worked, starved or beaten to death.