China to abolish term limits for its president, leading to worry for religious, democracy groups
China is in the process of allowing its current president, Xi Jinping, to become virtually an emperor.
The Communist Party of China announced Sunday that it intends to remove term limits from the office.
Xi, 64, is nearing the end of his first five-year term. He also serves as general secretary of the Communist Party and military chief, positions with no term limits.
Proposed constitutional changes that include abolishing term limits were released in the name of the Central Committee, a council of hundreds of senior party officials, who will meet starting on Monday for three days, the New York Times reported. “The amendments are almost certain to be passed into law by the party-controlled legislature, the National People’s Congress, which holds its annual full session starting on March 5. The congress has never voted down a proposal from party leaders,” the newspaper said.
The Times explained that the term limits had been installed originally to try to prevent the kind of cult leadership that had developed with Mao Zedong.
“Xi is now unfettered. He owns the entire policy process,” Susan Shirk, the head of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in a forthcoming paper about politics under Xi. “And Chinese domestic and foreign policy is only as restrained or aggressive as he wants it to be. The risk of policy misjudgments is greater than it has been under any other leader since Mao died.”
Part of that domestic policy has been particularly concerning for people following human rights and religious freedom issues…. Though he has been seen as a leader fighting corruption, he has overseen changes that are seen to be pushing religious practices aside in favor of dedication to communism. UCANews reported that Xi has spent much of last year targeting religious groups, for example, having Christian iconography replaced by images of his own face in certain parts of the country and having party cadres denounce religion in favor of atheism.
A Christian mega-church in Shanxi province, as well as a large Buddhist institution in Tibet, have been recently demolished by the government.
Rules that went into effect at the beginning of February place new oversight on online discussion of religious matters, on religious gatherings, the financing of religious groups and the construction of religious buildings, among others, Reuters reported. They increase existing restrictions on unregistered religious groups to include explicit bans on teaching about religion or going abroad to take part in training or meetings.
“Xi Jinping is susceptible to making big mistakes because there are now almost no checks or balances,” Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who is the author of a 2015 biography of Xi, told the Times. “Essentially, he has become emperor for life.”
“This move, which would allow for a single individual to amass and accumulate political power, means that China would again have a dictator as her head of state – Xi Jinping,” said Joshua Wong, a leader of a democracy movement in Hong Kong that the People’s Republic has been trying to control.