The Current

Experts wary of Chinese president's move to end term limits, so why are world leaders staying quiet?

A constitutional amendment will allow current president Xi Jingping to hold power indefinitely — harking back to the days of Mao Zedong and dictatorial rule. Why then are democratic world leaders staying so silent?
On Sunday, China's ruling Communist Party set the stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

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Critics warn that the Chinese Communist Party's recent decision to remove term limits makes way for another Chinese dictatorship—and yet Western powers are keeping quiet.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow current president Xi Jingping to hold power indefinitely—harking back to the days Mao Zedong and dismantling barriers put in place to avoid a return to autocratic rule.

But the president of the human rights organization Initiatives for China, Yang Jianli, is not surprised. He says Xi Jingping has been demonstrating other dictatorial cues for some time, including turning his back on allies.

"He has been successfully establishing himself as a big dictator, totally engaged in building a cult of personality around himself," he told The Current.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 18, 2017. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

"His recent move, trying to remove the term limits … shocked his comrades within the party, especially on the top level. Because by doing so, he further alienated his comrades — those who tried to share power with him."

And yet not a peep from Western democracies.

For Gregory Chin, an associate professor of Political Science at York University, silence on the part of international community may be rooted in the mercurial geopolitical climate. 

This type of stability might actually be somewhat attractive to Western governments at this time.- Gregory Chin

"I think implicitly, government leaders in the United States, Europe or elsewhere probably look out into a world of growing uncertainty," Chin said. 

"We don't really know what role the United States wants to play in the world moving forward …this type of stability might actually be somewhat attractive to Western governments at this time."

But Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese studies at King's College, says present-day China is a more complex country than it was under Mao. This makes the consequences of Xi's announcement rather unpredictable. 

"The bottom line is that one person is not going to be able to ... run this country in an autocratic style. At the moment, it looks like it's creating stability — but it could go badly wrong," Brown said.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and Julie Crysler.