China’s Great Leap Toward One-Man Rule Should Alarm Us All
The announcement from Beijing on February 25 was a bombshell.
China’s ruling Communist Party has decided to abolish a constitutional clause that limits presidential service to two terms. The move clears the way for President Xi Jinping—already China’s most powerful ruler in decades—to rule the country for as long as he desires.
In early March, the National People’s Congress will decide whether to approve this proposal. But this is essentially a “rubber stamp” parliament, so there is very little chance that it will not sign off on the revision. The line to be deleted states that the president and vice president “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.”
President Xi came into power in 2013. Under the current rule, he would have to leave office in 2023 after his second five-year term ends. But the constitutional revision means he could continue ruling as head of the world’s most populous nation for as long as his heart beats.
It is true that even before this revision, Xi would have been able to retain his positions as leader of the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) and as commander in chief of the People’s Liberation Army (pla), indefinitely. The constitutional term limits pertain strictly to the office of president, which is intrinsically less powerful than the two other posts. But if he had been made to step down as president, while retaining the other two offices, it would have left room for questions to arise over who was in charge.
Xi wanted the trinity of top posts in his own hands. He wanted his authority unquestioned, unchecked and undivided—and now he has it.
This has alarming implications for the future of China and the world.
What Can Happen in the Absence of Power Limits
The two-term limit was established in 1982 under President Deng Xiaoping. It was put in place, along with other checks on presidential power, in an effort to prevent China from ever returning to the era of chaos it had suffered under Deng’s predecessor, Mao Zedong.
Mao founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949. He ruled the nation with almost god-like status for nearly three decades.
It is true that Mao brought an end to generations of civil clashes and dismemberments under the influence of foreign powers. But with such catastrophic campaigns as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, he demonstrated an utter disregard for human life. Tens of millions of Chinese people died as a result of his disastrous leadership, and the only force that brought an end to his rule was his death in 1976 at age 82.
“[H]e was a merciless tyrant who crushed anybody who disobeyed him,” said Li Zhisui in a 1994 interview with the New York Times. Li worked as Mao’s private physician from 1955 until the dictator’s death. “The mistake of those who got purged was to see themselves as equal to him,” Li said. “He wanted everybody to be subservient.”
There were no term limits for Chairman Mao, and few meaningful limits of any kind on his power.
He was accountable to no one and scornful of all advice. The combination of his ruthlessness and incompetence made his rule incomparably tragic. Mao’s name is etched in history as the man responsible for the deaths of more people than any other individual. “It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century,” said historian Frank Dikötter. “It was like [the Cambodian communist dictator] Pol Pot’s genocide multiplied 20 times over.”
In light of this history, the people of China should be alarmed to see the checks on the president’s power being removed. But there are signs that it may be too late for the people of China to reverse the nation’s lurch toward authoritarianism.
Squashing Internal Dissent
Some Chinese are voicing alarm about Xi’s abolishment of term limits and his moves toward authoritarianism.
Li Datong, a former editor for the state-run China Youth Daily, lived through the Maoist era and spoke out against it on February 26. In a letter posted in a private group on China’s WeChat phone messaging app, Li wrote:
It [the term limit] was the highest and most effective legal restriction meant to prevent autocracy or putting individuals above the party and the state. Lifting the term limits of national leaders will be ridiculed by civilized nations all over the world and also sow the seeds of chaos for China.
But China’s propaganda machine shifted into overdrive to counter such criticism. WeChat users who attempted to share Li’s letter had their posts blocked. Dozens of words and phrases have been blocked altogether on social media, including “disagree,” “personality cult,” “emigrate,” “immortality,” “my emperor,” “lifelong,” “I oppose” and “Xi Zedong,” which is a fusion of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong.
Within China, the critics of Xi’s power grab do not appear to be numerous. And this heavy-handed Internet censorship may be enough to keep the criticism from spreading. But if it persists, the government could take things a step further.
“[I]f the momentum continues to build and netizens continue to look for other ways to express their displeasure with Xi, we could reach a critical point where the authorities might have to consider ‘turning off’ the Internet, however they might do that,” said Charlie Smith, the alias of the cofounder of GreatFire.org, an organization that studies Chinese censorship.
And there is little reason to doubt that Xi would resort to such an extreme measure.
Even before this latest power grab, Xi had little patience for disagreement, and he often countered it with force.
During his first five years, instead of maintaining the “first among equals” style of leadership used by his recent predecessors, he adopted a strongman approach. He bypassed State Council authorities by forming policymaking party groups, many of which he chairs himself. He took personal control of writing policy on everything from China’s economy and international relations to its environmental strategies and Internet regulations. He implemented painful military reforms that positioned him as unchallenged commander in chief of the enormous pla.
Xi also waged an anticorruption campaign resulting in the punishment or imprisonment of a breathtaking 1.5 million ccp members, including numerous former political rivals and senior military officials. This would be equivalent to the entire population of San Diego suddenly being fired from important government positions and, in many cases, incarcerated.
These moves placed Xi at the center of what Time’s Hannah Beech called “a personality cult not seen in the People’s Republic since the days when frenzied Red Guards cheered Chairman Mao’s launch of the Cultural Revolution” (March 31, 2016).
Most of China Supports Xi’s Rise
There are voices within China, such as the above-quoted Li Datong, that openly decry Xi’s lurch toward indefinite one-man rule. But for the most part, the citizenry and the ccp support the move.
In fact, Xi’s rapid ascent and his move to scrap term limits could not have happened without the full consent and assistance of the upper echelons of the ccp.
The Chinese elite and many ordinary citizens see that the global order is unraveling. They see the rise of far-right and far-left parties in Europe. They see the so-called “stable democracies” rapidly destabilizing. They see American power declining and leadership vacuums opening up. They see that the international stage is primed for conflict and the chance for China to take advantage of the volatility and to emerge as a superpower.
There is clear recognition in the highest echelons of Chinese leadership that, in order to attain superpower status, China’s 1.4 billion people need a ruler whose hands are not bound by red tape and who is not limited by checks and balances. They need a strongman at the helm who is free of political encumbrances and capable of streamlined decision-making. They need a new Mao.
It was based on these sentiments that the ccp elite created room for Xi’s political star to rise so rapidly and so high. And now these same sentiments will compel the citizens to support Xi as emperor for life. He is the man guiding China into the turbulent new era.
The World Should Be Alarmed
Xi’s abolition of term limits and lunge toward autocracy also has major implications outside of China—and for the global order.
Under Mao Zedong, China was a military lightweight. This meant that his ambitions rarely spilled over China’s borders in a significant way.
But in recent years, the pla has become a formidable force.
Under the streamlined leadership of 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, and since most of the country’s vast population supports him, the world should expect China to become even more aggressive on the international stage.
Xi, China and Bible Prophecy
The Trumpet watches Xi’s tightening grip on power because Bible prophecy reveals that as America’s influence on the global stage diminishes, two power blocs will emerge to fill the space: one, a European bloc functioning in the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire; the other, an Asian entity called in Scripture “the kings of the east,” headed by Russia, with China in a secondary leadership position. The Bible makes plain—in such chapters as Jeremiah 50 and 51, Daniel 11 and 12, Revelation 16 and Matthew 24—that a clash between this European power and this Russo-Chinese-led bloc will play a major role in the most violent conflict in human history.
The fact that Xi can now rule for as long as he lives is deeply significant. His ongoing rise and increasing control over China’s military and foreign policy is vital to watch, as it indicates how the Chinese president could fall in line with his fellow strongman in Russia and how China will be brought on to its biblically prophesied collision course with Europe. The February 25 announcement about scrapping term limits also indicates how near this future clash could be.
Although this points to a dark time in the near term, that time will be closely followed by the brightest imaginable future!
As Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes in his booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia’: “This immense war between European and Asian forces will end in the return of Jesus Christ! … The conclusion of that battle will mark the beginning of a peaceful and prosperous new age for the entire Earth!”