This week’s biggest news in Asia confirmed what many people have already been thinking. The announcement in China on Sunday that term limits on the presidency were to be scrapped effectively means that Xi Jinping can remain as leader indefinitely. The significance of this is not just that Xi can stay in power forever without stepping down, but that it ends a decades-long safeguard that was put in place by Deng Xiaoping specifically to prevent anybody from consolidating power like Mao Zedong by staying in power indefinitely.
But yet, the move was not totally unexpected as Xi has been trying to follow in the footsteps of Mao, gathering up personal power, creating a personality cult and launching massive crackdowns on society while continuously limiting freedom of expression. However, though Xi might be a powerful leader, China’s most powerful one since Deng, but he is not a great leader. Cracking down on corrupt officials, which also conveniently got rid of lots of potential rivals and their followers; coming up with the grand-sounding but dubious Belt and Road “initiative”; as well as acting belligerent with the US, Japan and Taiwan might seem impressive to some Chinese, but in reality, demonstrates little. The more Xi consolidates power, the more stronger China might seem, but in the long run I think this will be detrimental to China. This move also puts China back in the very slim ranks of nations where unelected leaders stay in power for as long as they wanted, like North Korea and Cuba. Even Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe just stepped down last November after decades in power, and he actually won elections. Previously, the 10-year limit on Chinese leaders meant that China could claim to have a more professional and efficient leadership that was authoritarian but not dictatorial. Xi’s desire to stay in power beyond 10 years, without any limits, means that the leadership is now solely about him.
The announcement was made on Sunday in a lowkey manner, but as the news spread amongst Chinese people, the authorities were quick to begin censoring opposing opinions. Hilariously, they were paranoid enough to also censor keywords like “emigrate,” “migration” and “Winnie the Pooh.” In case you are wondering why a fuzzy, harmless cartoon bear would be banned from China’s online space, it’s because Xi kind of resembles Winnie. There are reports that Wechat and Weibo posts that were critical of this news have been deleted, as many Chinese who previously might have been neutral or silent towards domestic politics have become alarmed.
We are living in dark times with a reckless imbecile in charge of the world’s most powerful nation and a wannabe emperor in Xi leading the second-most powerful one. Just as how Trump’s victory occurred despite many Americans knowing that he would be a terrible president, Xi’s course of action took place despite the apprehension of many Chinese. Just as bad is that the people of the world, most especially Taiwan and neighbouring countries, might have to suffer as well.
Taiwan might have cause to worry the most because one of Xi’s goals is to unify China and Taiwan, by force if necessary. Never mind this is something hardly any Taiwanese wants, but given Xi has no qualms about using force and repression on his own people, as well as Chinese with foreign citizenship, there is little reason to doubt he won’t hesitate using force on Taiwan. Taiwan will need to stay vigilant, boost its military and economy, and not back down on its sovereignty despite Xi and his regime’s threats.
The only positive I can see in all this is that Xi’s ambition is now out in the open, and people can now more clearly see the real nature of Xi and his regime.