China still has an emperor today
President for life : Xi Jinping becomes China's new emperor
Five years ago, a columnist for the New York Times believed that Chinese President-elect Xi Jinping was a reformer. Xi would "bring economic reforms and probably some political easing" to his country, that was in his genes, argued Nicholas Kristof. Xi's father condemned the Tian'anmen massacre and Xi's mother lived near Shenzhen, the country's most capitalist enclave. Xi was also one of the first political leaders in the country to send his daughter to the United States to study at an early age. We now know better: Xi Jinping is the opposite of a reformer. It strengthens the authoritarian political system, weakens institutions and centralizes all power within itself. Xi Jinping is China's new emperor.
This is also underlined by the planned constitutional amendment that the state news agency Xinhua recently announced: The president's term of office should no longer be limited to a maximum of ten years. If the People's Congress nods to the Central Committee's decision next month, Xi Jinping can stay president for as long as he wants. For life or at least as long as his physical and mental health allows. As president, general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, the 64-year-old now unites an unlimited amount of power like only the founder of the state Mao Zedong before.
"Xi Jinping puts himself in a position to rule China as a strong man, as a personality-related leader - and I have no problem calling him a dictator - for life," said former Deputy Secretary of State Susan Shirk "Guardian". With this step, many hopes for political and legal reforms in China are likely to have vanished.
Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping had introduced the ten-year limit in order to no longer be dependent on just one person and to prevent excesses such as the Cultural Revolution or the "Great Leap Forward" with his famine, which ended fatally for many millions of Chinese. Jiang Zemin (1993–2003) and Hu Jintao (2003–2013) had to give up the presidency after ten years. Xi Jinping, however, had not established a potential successor at the party congress in 2017.
Chinese propaganda justifies the move as being particularly important for the country's stability. The state newspaper "Global Times" writes that Beijing needs a strong and stable leadership for the crucial period from 2020 to 2035. By this year, China wants to have developed into a modern prosperous state.
Is the constitutional change a sign of strength or weakness?
Despite the great abundance of power, it is questionable whether the decision is a sign of his strength or perhaps also of his weakness. Because the presidency is the least significant of the three most important offices of Xi Jinping. In the one-party dictatorship, as chairman of the Central Military Commission or as general secretary of the Communist Party, he could have kept power in his hands after 2023. Like Deng Xiaoping, he could have pulled the strings in the background. "Xi's ability to push through such a decision is undoubtedly a short-term sign of his firm grip on all levels of power," writes China expert Richard McGregor on ChinaFile.com. "But the fact that he sees the need for it could also be a sign of something else: He might see it as urgent to amass even more power than he already has in order to keep his enemies at bay."
On Weibo, the Chinese twitter-like short message service, the news of the eternal president was sometimes not so well received. "We are transforming into North Korea," wrote one user. Others posted pictures of the Disney character Winnie the Pooh, which is often used as a synonym for Xi Jinping on the Chinese Internet because of its figurative similarity. In some pictures, Winnie the Pooh is stuck on a honey pot.
Such obvious criticism of Xi's sticking to power quickly erased China's censors from the Internet. Even pictures in which Winnie the Pooh is disguised as an emperor only had a short half-life. According to the website “Free Weibo”, terms like “Another term of office”, “Constitution”, “Xi Jinping”, “Winnie”, but also “immigration” were among the most censored terms of the day on Monday. Apparently, Xi's new power is making some Chinese think about emigration. Others, however, see the development as an opportunity. An unusually large number of superstitious Chinese retail investors bought shares on the stock exchanges with the characters “Huangdi” in their names. "Huangdi" means emperor.
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