China’s Leap Toward One-Man Rule Should Alarm the World

President Xi Jinping’s power grab will affect the future of China and the world.

China made a bombshell announcement on February 25: The ruling Communist Party said it would abolish a constitutional clause that limits presidential service to two terms. The change will clear the way for President Xi Jinping—already China’s most powerful ruler in decades—to rule the country for as long as he wishes.

President Xi came to power in 2013. Under the existing rules, he would have to leave office in 2023 after his second five-year term ends. But the constitutional revision means he could keep ruling as head of the world’s most populous nation for as long as his heart beats. Emperor for life.

This has alarming implications for the future of China and the world.

Within China, the move positions Xi to rule as an authoritarian ruler in the tradition of Mao Zedong. Mao founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and led the nation with an iron grip for decades—with no term limits. Tens of millions of Chinese people died as a result of Mao’s disastrous leadership, and the only force that brought an end to his rule was his death in 1976 at age 82.

Under Mao Zedong, China was a military lightweight. This meant that Mao’s ambitions rarely spilled over China’s borders in a significant way. But in recent years, the Chinese military has become a formidable force. Under the streamlined leadership of Xi—a man who vowed last year to make China “stand taller and firmer in the world”—such a military should be taken seriously.

Even before this constitutional revision, President Xi has led China on a path of international belligerence, grabbing territory from its neighbors and attempting to close off global commons.

Now that Xi is positioned to essentially be China’s emperor for life, the world should expect China to become even more aggressive on the international stage.