China has proposed removing the two-term limit for the presidency, in a move that would pave the way for Xi Jinping to remain in office beyond 2023 and tighten his grip on power.

The state constitution has limited the president and vice-president to two terms of five years for the past four decades — since Deng Xiaoping sought to institutionalize peaceful transitions of power after 30 years of increasingly arbitrary rule under Mao Zedong.

China’s official news agency Xinhua said yesterday that the ruling Communist party’s Central Committee had recommended removing the limits for both leading positions.

The 200-strong Central Committee will on Monday begin holding its three-day “plenum” to approve the leadership line-up for Mr. Xi’s second term.

The president will be formally re-elected during next week’s annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

China’s state constitution acknowledges the Communist party’s “leading role”, and Central Committee “recommendations” are routinely rubber-stamped by the NPC and State Council.

Analysts said the Xinhua report marked a dramatic tightening of Mr. Xi’s hold over state institutions.

“Xi Jinping has designs for a very long tenure in office — or he is doing a good impression of someone who does,” said Jude Blanchette, a China politics expert with the Conference Board in Beijing. “We’re witnessing the direct dismantling of the Deng-era project to normalize Chinese politics and to guard against the return of a Mao Zedong.”

The attempt to consolidate President Xi’s time in power draws comparisons with President Vladimir Putin of neighboring Russia, who returned for a third term in 2012. “The rumors that Xi Jinping would follow Putin down the path of the perpetual president are no longer rumors,” said Mr. Blanchette.

The state presidency is the least important of Mr. Xi’s three main political positions but the only one with formal term limits. In theory, Mr. Xi could already serve for life as party general secretary and chairman of the party’s central military commission, which controls China’s armed forces.

Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based political commentator, said the Central Committee’s recommendation on term limits was “the inevitable result of

[Mr. Xi’s] centralization of power over the past five years”.

The Central Committee held and extraordinary plenum in January to discuss amendments to the state constitution, prepare for a new ministry of state supervision and formally acknowledge Mr. Xi’s theoretical contributions to party doctrine – but made no mention of a possible elimination of term limits.

In an earlier sign of Mr. Xi’s increasing dominance, he secured agreement to add “Xi Jinping thought” to the party charter at its 19th Congress last October.

Source: Financial Times February 26, 2018