BY PUJAB RAJ PRADHAN IN BEIJING
Beijing once again took the center stage in a surprising move last month by announcing the Communist Party leadership wants to abolish the two-term limit for China’s president and vice president, potentially shocking the rest of the world especially the west. Exactly two weeks later, the parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature overwhelmingly passed the constitutional change which was indeed widely expected, enshrining Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era into the fundamental law.
Inside the Beijing’s Great Hall of the People last Sunday, delegates of the NPC casted their ballots on a series of proposed amendments to the Constitution, the first in 14 years, which included removing the restriction that had limited the presidency to two consecutive five-year terms. The amendments’ passage required two thirds of the vote but as predicted the Chinese president came out with flying colors with the unanimous support of lawmakers making it 2,958 in favor, two against and three abstentions.
However, it did not come without a protest from the west and domestically the government wasted no time to censor social media as it tolerates very little in the way of political dissent. While, President Trump behind the closed door referring to the Chinese president told donors on Saturday “He’s now president for life. President for life! No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday” provided the comment appeared to be in jest but he did manage to alarm a few.
Meantime, western media have been describing China’s democratic parties as empty shells in their coverage of the two sessions over the past decades. This so-called empty shells hypothesis may have been generated from the fact that democratic parties are not vested with substantial power by the Chinese constitution, despite their constitutionally graced position. However, in reality, democratic parties and their political functions are much more dynamic than what western media have been portraying. And time and again, it could have been this inveterate prejudiced observance that might have compelled the western media and some western countries to have made one failed prediction after another about China.
China’s economic dominance since the past half century has mostly depended on a period of remarkable regional peace and stability and win-win corporations. In kind, there have been wide spread speculations on why would Xi scrap presidential term limits provided there are no term limits for one of the other key positions he occupies as the general secretary of the Communist Party, the office in which true power resides in China. Nevertheless, does this signal that Xi is all powerful and now a president for life? Well, that can be argued both ways.
The national legislature wrote into the constitution, “the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and this new sentence reflects fundamental, comprehensive and contemporary nature of the party’s leadership and ensures that the country’s guiding theories will advance with time, says Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.
Similarly, many experts believe that this is not entirely bad for China as the western media has been conveying and Xi’s leadership is for creating space to reconcile economic development, control financial risk and ecological protection; fill the gaps in terms of environmental governance; comply with the people’s aspiration and wishes; address reform-era excesses, such as stark social inequality, and a cultural heritage badly damaged in the rush to modernize; anti-corruption campaign and not to forget the belt and road initiative. Comprehensively, it is a huge, ambitious trade and infrastructure scheme by the world’s second largest economy to link 68 countries and up to 40% of the world’s GDP in an enormous trade route.
China is now entering a new era, the counter-reform era and these changes don’t necessary reveal Xi’s final goal of either president for life or strengthening party rule. And this is still a difficult question to answer. However, it might be surprising that unlike in many other countries most people in China are actually unconcerned of the so-called “new principal contradiction”, be it to place less emphasis on endless growth or more on quality growth, the general public really doesn’t care about it much. But, they do believe that the amendments to the constitution will provide them a basic guarantee, a better future and uplift the individual’s life style as they are well acquainted with the evidence that they are now the second largest economy in the world and a global power. The general public has high faith on their leaders and the party system but for few, especially the corrupt with huge livid wealth, uncertainty hangs in the air and are diversifying against risk-placing their money in western real estate and their children in foreign colleges, and even seeking passports from nations that offer citizenship for sale.
The most people I have spoken to believe that the changes are of great significance to ensure prosperity and the lasting security of the nation which are in accordance with the times, the demands of the country’s development and the aspirations of both the party and the people. Having lived in China for a decade now, I think that most Chinese people have a tradition of collective culture. They can be miserable on their own but can easily be proud of their families or the strength of their motherland, therefore making it easy to use this feeling of patriotism and nationalism to captivate the masses believing in safely navigating the challenging course that lies ahead and realizing its long-anticipated rejuvenation. And, to my American friends, let’s not dictate democracy for others while on your own backyard you have elected Trump at the White house. Let’s not try to be messiah of democracy and so on, considering the fact that political stability, ideological openness and rapid economic growth are the main reasons for China being the second largest economy in the world.
[The author is an executive member of Nepal-China Cultural Economic Journalists and Intellectuals’ Society (NCCEJIS)]