A Chinese government spokesman said removing presidential term limits in the state constitution is about protecting the authority of the ruling Communist Party with President Xi Jinping at its center, Reuters reports.
The party said last week it would remove the two-term limit clause, setting the stage for Xi to stay in office indefinitely should he wish, prompting accusations from some in the country that China is set to become another North Korea.
While the party’s official People’s Daily said the move did not mean life-long terms, the proposal has caused unease in China.
The National People’s Congress, which opens its two week-long annual session on Monday, will pass the amendment as the body is stacked with party loyalists who will not question decisions from the leadership, the news agency said.
Asked whether the constitutional amendment would mean Xi would stay in office for life, Zhang Yesui, a vice foreign minister and spokesman for parliament, did not offer a direct answer.
Instead, he referred to the party constitution, which has no term limits for who heads the party and heads the military, positions Xi also holds and which are considered more senior in the country’s hierarchy than the presidency.
The state constitution will therefore also mimic the party constitution in regard to the presidency, Zhang told a news conference on Sunday.
The move “benefits protecting the authority of the party center and collective leadership with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, and benefits the strengthening and perfecting of the national leadership system”, he added, without elaborating.
The party gave Xi the title of “core” leader in 2016, a significant strengthening of his position at the time.
In the United States, President Donald Trump praised Xi Jinping on Saturday after the announcement on the Chinese leader’s term limits, Reuters reported, citing an audio aired by CNN.
“He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great,” Trump said, according to audio of excerpts of Trump’s remarks at a closed-door fundraiser in Florida aired by CNN. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday,” Trump said to cheers and applause from supporters.
It is not clear if Trump, 71, was making the comment about extending presidential service in jest. The White House did not respond to a request for comment late on Saturday.
US Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat, said on Twitter that “whether this was a joke or not, talking about being President for life like Xi Jinping is the most unAmerican sentiment expressed by an American President. George Washington would roll over in his grave”.
Xi will be formally elected to his second term as president at China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament. He began his second term as party boss in October.
State media has started ramping up the propaganda in favor of Xi in the run-up to parliament.
State television’s WeChat account on Sunday began running an eight-minute-long video entitled “The people’s delegate Xi Jinping”, showing pictures of Xi visiting ordinary people over a voice over of Xi talking about issues like poverty relief.
Xi is a member of parliament representing the northern region of Inner Mongolia.
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