China pushes back against criticism of plan for Xi to stay in power
BEIJING – Reuters
China’s plan for President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely has sparked social media opposition, drawing comparisons to North Korea’s ruling dynasty and charges of creating a dictator by a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist.
The social media reaction late on Feb. 25 quickly saw China swing into a concerted propaganda push by Feb. 26, blocking some articles and publishing pieces praising the party.
The ruling Communist Party on Feb. 25 proposed to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office, meaning Xi, who also heads the party and the military, might never have to retire.
The proposal, which will be passed by delegates loyal to the party at next month’s annual meeting of China’s largely rubber stamp parliament, is part of a package of amendments to the country’s constitution.
It will also add Xi’s political thought to the constitution, already added to the party constitution last year, and set a legal framework for a super anti-corruption superbody, as well as more broadly strengthen the party’s tight grip on power.
But it seems the party will have its work cut out trying to convince some in China, where Xi is actually very popular thanks in part to his war on graft, that the move will not end up giving Xi too much power.
“Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” wrote one Weibo user, where the Kim dynasty has ruled since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded North Korea in 1948 and his family has ruled it ever since.
“We’re following the example of our neighbor,” wrote another user.
The comments were removed late on Feb. 25 after Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, began blocking the search term “two term limit.”
Widely read state-run newspaper the Global Times said in an editorial the change did not mean the president will stay in office for ever, though it did not offer much explanation.
“Since reform and opening up, China, led by the Communist Party, has successfully resolved and will continue to effectively resolve the issue of party and national leadership replacement in a law-abiding and orderly manner,” it said, referring to landmark economic reforms that began four decades ago.
The party’s official People’s Daily reprinted a long article by Xinhua news agency saying most people supported the constitutional amendments, quoting a variety of people proffering support.
“The broad part of officials and the masses say that they hoped this constitutional reform is passed,” it wrote.
The WeChat account of the People’s Daily, after initially posting a flurry of positive comments under its article, then disabled the comments section completely late on Feb. 25. It was back again by Feb. 26, complete with remarks lauding the party.