China's Communist Party will lift the president's term limits so that Xi Jinping can rule over 2023 and replace the country with a political system based on collective leadership.
The Party Central Committee announced on Sunday its attempt to end a constitutional provision that prevents the head of state from serving more than two consecutive terms. That would eliminate the only formal barrier for Xi, who is also party leader and commander-in-chief of the military, and remain in power indefinitely.
The move was first reported at a party meeting last October, although the official announcement on Sunday shows the extent to which Xi took up his power in launching his second term. It renounces the orderly succession system that China introduced after Mao Zedong's chaotic reign to seek Western legitimacy, and compares Vladimir Putin's successful efforts to consolidate control over post-Soviet democracy in Russia.
"China has traditionally I had some degree of sound debate within the leadership on the direction that China should go," said David Cohen, a Beijing-based editor-in-chief of consulting firm China Policy. "This move signals that those whose opinion Xi needs to be interested in either look forward to the direction Xi is headed, or have effectively got rid of."
The announcement drew parallels with Putin, 65, who has worked in two of Moscow's top two positions since 1
Xi has visited Moscow more than other capitals since taking office in 2012. Putin told China's state broadcaster they celebrated their birthday with vodka shots in 2013, "Like two college students."
"I think Xi is comparing himself to Putin and modeling himself and just looking at how Russia is developing," said Fraser Howie, co-author of "Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Understanding of China's Extraordinary Rise."
"Nothing changes at the moment, of course," Howie said. "Xi is only in his second term and much can happen."
Speculation that Xi, 64, would try to stay further intensified after he refused to form a clear successor in the Party's two-year leadership transformation in October. However, the constitutional change represents a formal departure from the successor practices that China used after the turmoil of the Mao era to restore stability and facilitate its economic revival.
Mao used his cult of personality to enforce famine and subjugation of the elite party's bloody purges for tens of thousands of people.
The announcement comes a week before China's parliament, the National People's Congress, meets with an agenda that confirms Xi's second term and recommends a series of approved constitutional amendments recommended by the Central Committee. The removal of the term limitation was not one of the amendments announced after the committee's last meeting in January.
The change underscores the extent of Xi's power after the October Congress elevated him to a status alongside the country's most respected political figures. Changes in the party's charade brought Xi on an equal footing with Mao and Deng Xiaoping and also declared him indefinite as the "leader" of the party.
The seven-member Politburo Standing Committee – the country's highest political body – was elected after the event to be young enough to take power after Xi's second term. This was a departure from established norms, which saw Xi's own appointment to the body in 2007.
Cohen of China Policy said Xi had an easier time making changes than Putin's Regional Governor ended elections and manipulating transitions between President and Prime terms. One reason for this is the economic success of China.
"Putin seemed to be on the wrong side of the story when he did," Cohen said. "I do not think anyone could say confidently that Xi is on the wrong side of the story."