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As China looks set to scrap two-term limit for Xi Jinping, global media fears rise of one-man dictatorship

That Xi Jinping is the most powerful leader of China since Mao Zedong has often been claimed by China-watchers. Beijing's latest move to remove presidential term limits on Xi has just confirmed these speculations.

On Sunday, China's ruling Communist Party proposed to remove presidential term limits from the Constitution, potentially allowing Xi to continue in power after his second term, which ends in 2023.

Currently, the Chinese constitution, which has been in effect since 1982, prohibits more than two terms for the president and the vice-president. Since 1992, the president has also held the position of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. The removal of term limits, an issue which was taken up during the third plenary of the 19th Congress, is likely to be given approval by the rubber-stamp Congress on 5 March.

If one goes by the editorials and op-eds in several publications, Xi's consolidation of power has been met with caution as well as fear of a possible "Chinese hegemony".

Xi has already been given the title of "Emperor Xi" by the global media. This is probably an acceptance of the long-held belief that the US under Donald Trump is losing its global prominence to China.

Given China's geo-political ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region, articles coming out of this region have been critical and at the same time cautious of Xi's ambitions.

The Strait Times, a Singapore-based newspaper wrote that Xi is here to stay and that China under him is likely to consolidate its influence in the East and South East Asia.

An editorial in Manila Times said that Xi rise will have repercussions on the Philippines and the larger South East Asia. The editorial said that a "life-long" Xi presidency will have positive as well as negative impact on the country.

While the positive impact will be in the economic spheres, the editorial added, "The bad news is that China will surely continue its military build-up and domination of the South China Sea." It is important to know Philippines and China are currently locked in a territorial dispute over Spartly Islands.

File image of Chinese President Xi Jinping. AP

File image of Chinese President Xi Jinping. AP

A little further north, Japan's English-language daily, Japan Times said that Xi's possible "coronation" will be China's embrace of "the strongman model". While urging Japan to be ready to deal with an assertive China where power will be centralised under Xi, the editorial added that the plan to end presidential term limits is a major reversal of trend, which was initiated by Deng Xiaoping.

Thailand's Bangkok Post carried an opinion piece which warned that Xi's possible bid to become "president for life" could end up stagnating China, like in the case of Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev. The op-ed linked Xi's childhood struggle under Maoism for his push to consolidate political power.

Towards Thailand's south east, Australia is already reeling under allegations of turning into a client state. In such a circumstance, an op-ed in The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that Xi's coronation will "entrench China's hi-tech authoritarianism".

Western media denounces 'individualistic' power centre

China's rise as a global power has come at the time of West's perpetual decline. Xi's rise to absolute power, Time said, should worry the world.

The magazine, which in October last year, called Xi the most powerful man in the world, said that the rise of "one man rule" after a gap of three decades may bring back disasters like the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in the 21st Century.

The New York Times editorial board took a hardline stand against Xi, saying that by opting for "one-man rule" made political transitions in China more unpredictable.

"The system Xi has created also makes it less likely he will receive sound policy advice or be challenged on decisions in ways that could avoid mistakes. That’s because he solidified his power base during the first term by waging an aggressive campaign against corruption and dissent," the editorial said on Xi's ruthless campaign against dissent.

The Guardian claimed that the Chinese leadership is stong but may not be stable. Alluding to the chaotic Maoist era, its editorial said that repression may rise in the short run but in the long run, "personalised leadership" may not ensure stability.

"Xi’s opponents see few checks on him now and cannot expect to simply wait him out. And he has personalised his rule to an extent he may regret if the economy or foreign policy goes badly awry," the editorial noted.

Deutsche Welle, the Germany-based English newspaper said that Xi is on course to be "tomorrow's dictator". "The world must now come to terms with China's most powerful leader in decades, and one who may be present for decades to come, an op-ed in the publication said.

The western media"s focus on the perils of "individualistic rule" mirrored closely with the official US statement that "strong institutions are more important than individual leaders."

What it means for India and neighbourhood

But back home in India too, Xi's rise as the undisputed leader of the world's second largest economy has its implications.

In an editorial, which in essence backs The Guardian's view, The Indian Express said that Xi's consolidation of power highlights the "structural weakness" in the Chinese communist party. The editorial also had a word of caution for India, "For India, which had to deal with an aggressive China in Doklam, and manoeuvre against its rising influence in South Asia, the lack of checks and balances on Xi is a worrying sign."

Urging India to co-ordinate more with Japan, us and western democracies, The Times of India editorial noted that India will need to abandon its "non-aligned template" to check China's rise in the Indian Subcontinent.

"Perhaps China finds large democracies like India threatening and in need of restraint, while semi-autocracies like Pakistan look more manageable," the editorial said while criticising Xi's move to discard institutionalised leadership in China.

China comes to Xi's defence

Nevertheless, China's State-run media backed the scrapping of term limits, adding that it is needed to bring stability to the political system.

Rejecting reports of Xi becoming "president for life", Global Times said in its editorial, "The change (in the constitution) doesn't mean that the Chinese president will have a lifelong tenure," adding that the removal of the two-term limit for the president will help maintain the trinity system and improve the institution of leadership of the CPC and the nation.

By trinity system, the publication meant, General Secretary of the Central Committee, President of the People's Republic of China and the Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 15:47 PM

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