A senior cadre at the Communist Party’s Central Party School recently told a gathering of journalists and editors that scrapping the 10-year presidential term limit would not mean Xi Jinping could cling to power for as long as he likes.

Xie Chuntao, deputy president at the top party school grooming leading officials, assured reporters at a seminar held by the Journalists’ Association of China earlier this month that there had been well-oiled succession planning to ensure a smooth, uneventful transfer of power well before the president was given a lifetime tenure.

In March 2018, the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, approved by a clear majority an amendment to the nation’s constitution decreed by Xi to strip the president of any term limit. This instantly drew a hefty backlash and was seen as a big step backward and eliminated the only checks and balances under an authoritarian regime and a way for Xi to entrench his grip of power.

The Chinese president is a ceremonial office with no substantive authority, while the real power rests with the general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission, the other two posts Xi also holds, with no term limit written into the party’s own constitution.

Xie reportedly told media professionals that the volley of criticism after the NPC dropped the presidential term limit was “never warranted” as restricting how long a leader can stay in power was “never a widely-adopted practice in foreign countries,” stressing that the Japanese prime minister and German chancellor do not have term limits either.

“Different countries decide on their own how long a leader can serve, taking stock of their difference circumstances and needs,” said Xie, adding that the party had long established a succession mechanism before the Chinese constitution was amended.

Chinese President Xi Jinping takes the military salute from China’s armed forces in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Photo: AFP/EyePress/Don Ng

He said Xi spent four decades as he rose through the ranks within the party, and started his political career as the party chief of a poverty-stricken village in central Shaanxi province. He had 16 promotions throughout his peripatetic career across five provincial regions – Shaanxi, Hebei, Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai – before entering the party’s top echelon, the standing committee of the high-powered Politburo, in 2007, and took over the mantle of the nation in 2012.

That said, throughout the 70 years since the founding of the Communist republic in 1949, only two top leaders – Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao – chose to conform to the unwritten rule of a 10-year tenure as the party chief.

Xie also revealed that the party’s organization department conducted intensive integrity and background checks of all candidates including their incomes, properties and family members when shortlisting members of the party’s 19th central committee in 2017.

Xinhua reported back then that about 150 candidates failed to make the list.

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