What Xi Jinping's indefinite rule in China means for India and rest of the world

The Chinese president's consolidation of power portends a more expansionist approach to Beijing's foreign engagement.

 |  6-minute read |   27-02-2018
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For a world which was more worried about Donald Trump’s presidency, now the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) decision to drop term limits on China’s president and vice-president’s post, is all set to have an even more profound impact on the global order.

President Xi Jinping's continuation as unchallenged president will likely see China become increasingly assertive in the pursuit of what he sees as China's national interests which includes initiatives such as China's “Belt and Road Initiative”.

For President Xi, managing expectations will be difficult as China consolidates its economic growth while facing a growing appetite for political and social freedoms to match the new levels of prosperity. President Xi had articulated many number of times the roadmap to consolidate the centrality of China's economic success for the prosperity of Chinses citizens but in realising his dreams, China's resurgence runs into contested claims and competing interests in search of resources. President Xi's consolidation of power portends a more assertive and expansionist approach to China’s foreign engagement.

Xi’s rise has challenged most of the assumptions about China. He wants to make China the pre-eminent global power and he is convinced of his own destined role in making that a reality. He has already removed most of his political opponents in his aggressive anti-corruption drive and has sought a fuller control of the military.

President Xi projection of China’s ambitions abroad with more long-term certainty and continuity, the large-scale, global projects - such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Belt and Road Initiative, the occupation of the South China Sea, and even its undeclared intention to become hegemon of the Indo-Pacific region - now suddenly has gained a new presumption of being successfully carried out.

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This issue of removing limits on number of terms for president has been a cause of much speculation and discussion since the 19th party conference since last October, when no successor was announced by President Xi. Since last October, therefore, Xi Jinping’s continuation in power beyond two terms was widely anticipated. It appears that the decision is based on a sort of consensus at least among the top leadership - and that Xi has managed to override any objections which might have been raised and thus it points to a qualitative strengthening of President Xi’s power.

With this amendment, President Xi will certainly consolidate this consensus into total backing on his policies and thoughts. At the end of his first term, President Xi Jinping was elevated to the status of late paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, securing an almost unchallengeable dominance over the Communist Party, he was named as “code leader” of the party.

President Xi Jinping’s governing philosophy, officially titled “Xi Jinping thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristic for a new era”, had also been added to the party constitution in China.

The proposed amendment in the Constitution for removing the limit of number of terms for president will also secure President Xi’s political legacy, which will further see his dominance over China’s politics well into the coming decades.

President Xi’s power gets reflected in the revised party constitution by including the leader’s mantra on strengthening the party’s absolute control on the military and administration by establishing a supervisory commission.

If we look back into history, then it was in the 1990s that the tradition of limiting presidencies to 10 years emerged as Deng Xiaoping sought to modernise the Chinese polity by avoiding the excesses of the Mao’s era. The new changes are certainly a departure from Deng Xiaoping’s thought and now China is going back to Mao’s thought because in his time, Mao had a very aggressive or assertive policy approach regarding China while Den Xiaoping had a very conciliatory policy approach regarding China. The new changes are nail in the coffin of Deng Xiaoping’s project of institutionalising collective leadership in China.

Deng Xiaoping always spoke very softly and tried to ensure that the Chinese were not seen as an aggressive power especially China after 1979 was never really got involved in any kind of War in Deng Xiaoping era. While Mao was very aggressive, and he aggressively promoted Chinese interest. Similarly, President Xi Jinping thoughts and approach reflects more similarity with Mao’s approach.

It was very clear enough when during the last party Congress in October 2017 when President XI’s successor was not anointed. It seems that this decision was deliberated in a calibrated manner inside the party while only the endorsement of President Xi Jinping’s thought in the Constitution along with the establishment of the supervisory commission. These were two important things which were done last year and it paved the way for giving more powers to the president ultimately leading to a situation where changes has been made so as to keep Xi at the post till his life.

The party cadre of CCP and citizen at large believes that it is China's moment in the world keeping in mind the vision for 2021 (Chinese Communist Party’s centenary year) and 2049 (PRC’s centenary year) for which the vision has been laid out by Xi Jinping in the form of Belt and Road Initiative.

India should not fall in the trap of Henry Kissinger’s school of thoughts that economic reforms or development would lead Chinese society towards greater democracy, transparency and accountability and in turn a moderate and non-expansionist China to deal with India. We need to build on the concept of India being a leading power in the region and the World and accordingly India should build partnership with like-minded countries as has been proposed in the quadrilateral partnership with Australia, Japan and US for “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Otherwise, if India does not play its cards properly then the asymmetry between the two Asian giants will keep increasing and it will become difficult for India to catch up. There will be no major or dramatic differences in the approach of Chinese Communist Party or government in dealing with India whether it is Xi or anyone else, the approach will remain similar.

In conclusion, the decision of removing the term limit on president post simply means that for a long time into the future, China will continue to move forwards according to Xi’s thoughts, his route, his guiding principles and his absolute leadership.

For all Xi’s apparent dominance - achieved through a ruthless purge of rivals within China’s political, military and security establishment - many experts believed that his political project is was not guaranteed to endure. But now he will be able to realise his agendas. The projected authoritarianism at the Central level leadership will also reduce the chance of any further political reforms in China related to the question of freedom and dissent within China.

Also read: Why India is getting on China's nerves these days

Writer

Siddharth Singh Siddharth Singh @siddharthsingh0 ‏

The author is a research fellow with India Foundation.

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