China's Communist Party has cleared the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely by announcing that it intends to abolish term limits on the presidency. This marks a historic break with decades-old rules meant to prevent China from returning to the days when Chairman Mao was shown cult-state obedience. The amendment would allow Xi, 64, to be elected again during the next election in 2023. However, there is a real danger of the move getting backfired.
There has been a widespread speculation that Xi would seek to extend his presidency beyond 2023. Party congress last year saw him strengthen his status as the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. While Xi's ideology was enshrined in the party constitution at the Congress, the party did not also name any successor. A brilliant strategist, Xi astutely chose a moment of maximum leverage to try to extend his term in office.
In effect, he has to preserve the national unity and integrity that Mao restored, while extending the free market reforms that Deng Xiaoping launched in the 1980s and also complete China's ascent to economic and military superpower status. If he achieves this, he will then be part of, not just China's, but world's history.
All this may sound bizarre as in the past Communist Party stayed firmly in control while the man at the top was in command for a limited period of time. Xi disrupted the system from the very beginning in rewriting rules. His anti-corruption drive conveniently eliminated Xi's political rivals. In fact, the office of the President is not all powerful in China, it being just a ceremonial one.
Real power rests in the hands of the General Secretary and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi holds all the three positions. The indications are that he would ensure greater powers are given to his office deftly.
What does all this mean to India? Well, the country needs to pay a very close attention to Xi utterances and moves. India as a nation has to evolve a strong policy towards China, not the one that changes with every government. It is imperative that it is not just our governments, but also the Opposition too has to become part of the policy.
There is no time for skullduggery. Hope our politicians mature enough to take note of this. Even as Washington seeks to retreat from several parts of the world leaving a power vacuum, particularly in Asia, China could only be expected to brazenly push its expansionist agenda further. The only unknown could be this: will there be no jostling for space at the top and if so, what happens to China?