A few days ago, the Chinese Parliament scrapped term limits for China’s presidency paving the way for President Xi Jinping to remain in office for the rest of his life.
The previous two term limits would have seen Xi relinquish power at the end of his second term as President in 2023. He is currently 64 years old. This move symbolizes the end of collective rule (promoted by Deng Xiaoping), brought about by the one-man rule under Mao Zedong. In addition to a possible tighter clamp down on dissent from civil society, journalists, lawyers, and on the internet, this move is likely to see dramatic changes in global affairs over the next few years.
What does this mean for the security landscape of the region?
To better understand why, we must look back to 2017 and the outcomes of the General Meeting of the Communist party of China. At this meeting, Xi’s “thought” was officially enshrined in the constitution of the Communist Party. While Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have had their “ideologies” enshrined in the constitution, Xi is the only one whose “thought” has been recognized. This elevates him to a position of pre-eminence which equates internal dissent of Xi and renders his policies virtually a crime against the Communist party.
At the same meeting, it was declared that this would be the third era for China. The first was by Mao Zedong to unite the country after the bitter civil war, next came the period of stabilization and economic and political development under Deng Xiaoping and now is the time for Xi Jinping. In this phase, there is a promise to consolidate affairs at home (matters of the economy and corruption) while reaching outwards and spreading its international influence. This was laid out by Xi in his 2012 speech, “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
This international influence is being implemented to a high degree. Militarily, it is seen in the form of China setting up its first overseas military base in Djibouti, as well as its extravagant military spending (second only to the US) annually. It can be observed economically, through massive initiatives such as the CPEC (Chinese- Pakistan Economic Corridor) and the OBOR (One Belt One Road) initiative which is trying to better integrate Central Asia. It can be seen diplomatically, through China playing a more active role in International treaties and organizations; a space China is happy to occupy, especially considering the void being created by the retreat of the US.
For decades, China’s rise has created a sense of deep insecurity among its neighbours. In anticipation, some have sought to strengthen global alliances with the US, while others such as India and Japan, have worked towards strengthening their own relationship. These alliances were developed in the hope that they would never have to be called upon. The next five years under an unleashed Xi Jinping could be vital to testing these alliances and with it, the stability of the region and the world.