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China Plans To Abolish Term Limits For President Xi Jinping


China's Communist Party wants to get rid of presidential term limits. That could effectively make the current Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, president for life. Steve Inskeep spoke about this with Carl Minzner. He's a China scholar at Fordham University School of Law, and he pointed out that China's government has already been moving to consolidate power in the hands of President Xi.

CARL MINZNER: This is simply the most recent of a long range of steps. If you just go back to last fall at the Party Congress, the Chinese Communist Party had its own meeting and they didn't designate a successor to Xi Jinping as you might've expected. There would've been a tradition as you go into the second term as general party secretary. They at least anoint who the next successor would be. And moreover, they raised his ideological profile up in a way that started to resemble that of Mao.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: The phrase cult of personality is coming to mind.

MINZNER: Yes. You know, if you look at media portrayals, if you look at state television coverage of Xi Jinping, there's a much higher attention devoted to him than to other leaders. And this isn't just recent. This goes back several years. And so I would definitely say that there's a whiff of a cult of personality that's steadily strengthening over time.

INSKEEP: OK. So I'm looking at a book of yours here, "End Of An Era." And the subtitle is, "How China's Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise." Doesn't sound like you think this is good for China.

MINZNER: No. I mean, I'm worried. I'm really worried. If you think about the reform era, you think about that period that we think of as recent Chinese history since 1978 or early 1980s, the reform era was characterized by three things - rapid economic growth, a certain degree of ideological openness to the outside and relative political stability, partially institutionalized norms governing how the system operates. And all of those are starting to go under. And what worries me is, as those go under, I think that starts to really raise questions for what could happen next.

INSKEEP: China has been seen as having an advantage on the world stage in that here in the United States we have a little bit of democratic chaos. We go back and forth. We change direction constantly, it seems. And the Chinese seem to know where they're going. Is it possible they could be far too authoritarian to adjust to a changing world?

MINZNER: I think that's certainly a risk. I think, again, you just flip back to the Maoist era itself. I think people now have this idea that, you know, China is a technocratic superpower that plans for the future. But I think if you look back to where China itself came from, there are real problems when you excessively concentrate power in the hands of a single person and you don't have checks and balances, and you start to have, you know, yes men proliferating. People don't call out the errors. And things can really start to decay. So yes, I think that this could start to create really serious problems for China in the long run.

INSKEEP: OK. So if you're an American, and you would like the United States to remain the world's largest economy and the world's dominant power as long as possible, did the United States just score a point?

MINZNER: At this point, the United States and China are very deeply connected to one another. The possibility that China could skew in a more hardline direction and also potentially a more unstable direction has implications for potentials for conflict between the two countries. It has implications for what would it mean for a more insular or more hardline or a more unstable China, in terms of the economic relationships between the two countries. I don't think it's good for anyone when this happens. So I think just taking the narrow idea that, boy, problems are emerging in China, I don't think that's the way Americans should be looking at that.

INSKEEP: You would like China to be stably and predictably run.

MINZNER: Absolutely. I think that, you know, that's the trajectory that you would hope China would evolve, whether you're American or whether you're Chinese.

INSKEEP: Carl Minzner, thanks very much.

MINZNER: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.


MARTIN: That was Steve, talking with Carl Minzner. He's a professor at Fordham University School of Law. His forthcoming book is titled, "End Of An Era: How China's Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.