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Peter Brookes: Xi could be in office for a very long time

Peter Brookes

Wow — China’s got a new Mao!

Last weekend, it was reported that the Chinese Communist Party is planning to amend the constitution of the People’s Republic of China to end term limits for the country’s president, currently set at two, five-year terms.

That means that Chinese President Xi Jinping at age 64 could be in power for a long time — a very long time, indeed.

While the National People’s Congress must approve the constitutional change — along with another that will add “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to the constitution — a “thumbs-up” is certain.

With that, Xi — like Chairman Mao — would become leader for life.

On the positive side, the world has a pretty good idea about Xi, having observed him in office since he became president in 2012. We all have a sense of who he is and what he wants — which, unfortunately, constitutes the downside of the Chinese president.

Here are some reasons for concern:

• Politics: Democracy is dead. Not that it was flourishing, anyway, but allowing China’s president to stay in office indefinitely means that nearly 20 percent of the world’s population doesn’t get a say in choosing their leader.

Abroad, this move — similar to what we’ve seen in Russia and Turkey — could certainly embolden other leaders to turn to authoritarianism, blunting long-standing efforts to spread political, economic and social liberty.

This also doesn’t bode well for China’s testy ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers to be a part of the People’s Republic, or the prospects for (long-threatened) political and civil liberties in Hong Kong, either.

• Security: China’s defense buildup will continue with big spending on military modernization. We’re talking about a fleet of aircraft carriers, new warships and submarines, stealth fighters and lots of ballistic missiles.

Beijing is also putting military and spy satellites into orbit while building counter-space missiles to shoot our satellites out of it. It’s continually crafting cyber capabilities for espionage and warfare purposes, too.

The South China Sea artificial-island building campaign to create a “Chinese Lake” — started under Xi — won’t end, either; expect Beijing to bolster its specious claims in the area with even more militarization of these man-made sand piles.

• Economics: Besides forcing U.S. firms to do business in China at a significant disadvantage, including protectionism and forced technology transfers, Beijing also steals American intellectual property (like industrial designs and processes) through cyber theft.

Internationally, Xi launched the “One Belt One Road Initiative,” developing a modern Silk Road from Asia to Europe involving both land and sea routes. Spanning nearly 70 countries, this massive project will grow Chinese influence exponentially.

This sort of aggressive policymaking will continue under Xi’s now limitless reign.

There’s no question that the Chinese president is super ambitious, arguably seeing the work of his predecessors as plodding in delivering on China’s national “rejuvenation” — which Xi has dubbed the “China Dream.”

Xi’s revisionist plans are clear: Return China to its self-perceived rightful place atop the international system, replacing the United States, while developing the power to allow it to say “No,” especially to the West and its institutions and values.

Staying put as president, Xi will have lots of time to push that program.


This article first appeared in the Boston Herald.  Dr. Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a Fort Valley resident. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter. Email: BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com.