- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2018

China’s ruling Communist Party is laying the groundwork for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

On Sunday, the party’s Central Committee proposed to remove from the national constitution the expression that China’s president and vice president “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms,” Xinhua said in a brief statement with few other details.

The move appears to scrap term limits for the office of president, allowing Mr. Xi to stay at the country’s helm beyond his second five-year term, which was slated to end in 2023.

Analysts were divided as they scrambled to interpret the statement.

Some saw it as the latest move by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to support Mr. Xi’s willingness to break with the tradition of collective leadership and centralize power around himself.

Since taking office more than five years ago, Mr. Xi — the son of one of the CCP’s founding fathers — has managed a radical shake-up of the party and spearheaded an anti-corruption campaign that has taken down top leaders once thought untouchable.

Mr. Xi also serves as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s commander in chief, and in that role he has pushed for a major military modernization including larger defense budgets, streamlined forces and a more assertive foreign policy, particularly with regard to Sino-Japanese relations and Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Economically, he promoted the idea of individual aspirations under the slogan of the “Chinese Dream.”

During last year’s party congress, Mr. Xi secured his status as China’s most powerful leader since the late Mao Zedong, who founded communist China. Widespread speculation followed that Mr. Xi was working behind the scenes to extend his presidency beyond its second five-year term.

Xi Jinping has finally achieved his ultimate goal when he first embarked on Chinese politics — that is to be the Mao Zedong of the 21st century,” Chinese University in Hong Kong political analyst Willy Lam told The Associated Press.

But other analysts, however, saw Sunday’s announcement as evidence of CCP weakness.

Mr. Xi’s image dominates official propaganda, prompting suggestions that he is trying to build a cult of personality. Party spokespeople reject such talk, insisting that Mr. Xi is the core of its seven-member Standing Committee, not a lone strongman.

“I interpret this piece of news as evidence that the CCP is weaker and more vulnerable than thought, not strong and stable,” Rand Corp. China expert Lyle Morris tweeted. “A party that allows a leader through cult and power of personality to re-write the rules of succession is not a political party confident in itself.”

Mr. Xi, 64, is coming to the end of his first five-year term as president and is set to be appointed to his second term at an annual meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament that starts March 5. The proposal to end term limits will likely be approved at that meeting.

Term limits on officeholders have been in place since they were included in the 1982 constitution, when lifetime tenure was abolished.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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