THE shock decision by China’s Communist Party to remove the term limits for the country’s president and allow Xi Jinping to rule for life will surely have repercussions on the Philippines and the rest of the region, particularly on military and economic diplomacy.
The official Xinhua news agency announced the move of the party’s Central Committee to strike the term limits off the Chinese Constitution on Sunday, and this is expected to become official in early March when China’s parliament – the National People’s Congress – convenes for its annual legislative session.
Three major achievements are being used to justify Xi’s indefinite rule.
First is his popular anti-corruption drive, which has purged even former members of the Politburo and provincial party chiefs.
Second is the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which has certainly further raised China’s global stature as a trading giant and a source of investments, capital and aid for the developing world.
Third is China’s growing military power and strengthened position in the South China Sea dispute, with the completion of military installations on the Spratly Islands despite the protests of other claimants, such as the Philippines.
To be sure, a lifetime rule for the Chinese President is a step backward in terms of political reform, even as China has made strides in economic reform by embracing the market economy, or “socialism with Chinese characteristics” as the official ideology is called.
A lifetime presidency for Xi, 64, harks back to the regime of Mao Zedong. Xi has a personality cult around him, and the “Xi Jinping Thought,” or the President’s rehash of socialism with Chinese characteristics, is already inscribed in the Chinese Constitution, like “Mao Zedong Thought,” or Mao’s brand of Marxism and Leninism before it.
China will have to contend with the consequences of this about-face. The early online public reaction has so far been negative, which was promptly censored by authorities in Beijing.
Outside China, the decision has been welcomed, albeit cautiously, as a harbinger of stability in the world’s second-largest economy.
For the Philippines, the policy stability that a lifetime Xi presidency will bring will have both positive and negative repercussions.
The positive effects will be in the economic, investment and trade arena, and the Philippines can expect little to zero disruption in policy with Xi and his pool of bureaucrats and policymakers securely at the helm.
The bad news is that China will surely continue its military build-up and domination of the South China Sea.
The question for Manila is how it will weigh its interests in both arenas, especially when Beijing forces a trade-off.
Xi is out to cement his grip on power, and so will China vis-à-vis the region and the rest of the world.