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Strongman rising

Mar 06,2018
The Communist Party of China kicked off its annual National Congress that decides the state’s agenda with this year’s session primarily designed to revamp the party constitution to lift limits on presidential terms, enabling President Xi Jinping to hold onto power indefinitely and entrench the single party’s hold over the world’s second largest economy.

Premier Li Keqiang in his speech to the legislature on behalf of the administration estimated steady economic growth of around 6.5 percent this year, more conservative than the annualized 7.1 percent pace targeted during Xi’s first five-year term. In line with Xi’s vision of turning China into a superpower, Beijing upped military spending by 8.1 percent to $175 billion for this year. Xi previously vowed to build the world’s strongest military by the mid-21st century.

The keystone of the assembly that runs until March 20 is constitutional reform aimed at restricting the presidential term to two five-year terms, a cap kept since Deng Xiaoping in order to prevent a Mao Zedong-like dictatorship and the excesses that usually accompany a strongman’s rule. When passed, Xi, who took office in 2013, will not have to step down after his second term ends in 2023.

Since there is no term limit on his other titles — head of the party and central military commission — Xi will be able to wield as much power as Mao by holding sway over the party, administration and military without any time restrictions. Any implications of a president for life or emperor-like status are taboo in the Chinese media in order to prevent any resistance to the move from growing.

The Chinese media is justifying the need for a strong leadership to ensure sustainable growth and China’s ascension as an ever more potent superpower. Xi is expected to ramp up an anti-corruption drive that has been hugely popular with the masses and turn more assertive on the international front.

Beijing will attempt to increase its influence in the region to gain the upper hand in a hegemonic struggle with the United States. It will likely become more meddlesome in Korean affairs as it was in its protest of the installation of a U.S. antimissile system in Korea.

Seoul must thoroughly study and prepare for the repercussions of a stronger China under an ever-stronger Xi.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 6, Page 30