Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has moved to cement his position this week, removing the constitutional limits which would have forced him to step down following the end of his second term in office.
The change, which will likely be rubber-stamped by the less-than-independent Parliament body, would potentially allow Xi to remain as Premier for decades to come.
This move is part of a wider range of centralisation policies put forward by Xi, who has sought to consolidate power of both the Communist Party of China (CPC) and other state mechanisms under his own hand.
Xi has also appointed allies to key positions within the CPC, allowing him to maintain sprawling influence over a wide array of issues and power points within both China and the Party.
The move has been hugely controversial within China, even in areas where Xi could traditionally hope to garner support, particularly among neoconservatives who have welcomed the rise of a powerful figure to take control of the CPC.
Even these analysts are sceptical of Premier Xi’s reasoning for altering the constitution, the first such change in over a decade. For liberal opinion within China, this is a remorseless power grab by a man looking to hang onto power indefinitely.
Combined with continued crackdowns on corruption whistleblowers, critical press and protest, the move is hugely unpopular with large parts of the population. The history of China tinges the debate with emotion and past significance. The reign of Chairman Mao, under whom the repressive nature of the Chinese state reached a peak and millions perished through famine, is still fresh in the memories of many.
The concern is that Xi is making the same mistakes which led to the famine under Mao, surrounding himself with friends and associates who will not challenge him. Indeed, parallels have been drawn between Mao’s untouchable position as Chairman of the party and the removal of the term limits on Xi’s premiership.
Mao, who became leader following a bloody civil war in 1947, is still a huge figure in Chinese culture and history, despite the debate about his legacy and the crimes committed under his regime. Though comparisons between the two are obviously imperfect and oft exaggerated, the history of China in the latter stages of the 20th-century colours the debate significantly. For the rest of the world, the position of Xi Jinping is of particular interest.
China is set to surpass the USA as the world’s largest economy in the coming years, and by some metrics is there already. With this economic power, as well as a huge population, comes a new found diplomatic role which the Chinese state is still adapting to.
China will play a pivotal role in any resolution to the North Korean tension, as well as a wider geopolitical position as a country of real influence. As a G8 nation, China has grown in confidence when commenting on the situation in the Middle East and expanding links with developing nations in Africa.
Further, with President Trump announcing the introduction of new tariffs and his history of directing his ire at the Chinese, a trade war could be in the offing. Xi has warned in recent days that retaliation to new tariffs is likely. A conflict between the world’s largest economies could be trouble for global growth.