On March 11, the National People’s Congress of China passed motions to abolish presidential term limits so that President Xi Jinping could accomplish his long-term plan, which might otherwise have been disrupted or aborted by frequently changing leaders. This plan includes changes in anti-corruption efforts, regulations on real estate prices, and a greater emphasis on environmental conservation.
Back home in Beijing, China, many people around me spoke about the situation in horror. A friend of mine told me she was in despair: “It doesn’t matter even if [President Xi Jinping] is doing all the right things,” she said. “He’s a dictator. Doesn’t that scare you?” I came across a Twitter account named @StopXiJinping, organized by anonymous Chinese students studying abroad with the intention of ending Xi’s presidency and raising voices of disagreement. The organizers had to use Twitter to avoid being caught by the scanning eyes of the Chinese government; when the hashtag first appeared on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, it was immediately censored to avoid disrupting social order.
Furthermore, multiple news sources, including CNN and “The Washington Post,” commented on how Xi, China’s president since 2012, would become a dictator and serve until his death. As China enters a new period of steady economic growth, it is critical for the country to find more sustainable, healthy ways of development. Therefore, decisions concerning the economy need to be discussed and considered more carefully with policymakers. Under an unrestricted presidency, however, if Xi makes a mistake, there is no effective correcting force. In addition, Xi has been especially strict with enforcing censorship. These are only a few of the concerns regarding the nature of Xi’s centralized power.
There are definitely benefits to the American political system, but Chinese politics cannot be considered in terms of American values. Part of the shock most Americans experience upon reading the news about Xi’s reign comes from how different China’s one-man rule is from the political system in the United States. When I lived in China, I didn’t care about politics at all, because the political circle seemed very far and disconnected with my daily life. This is very different from the American idea of actively participating in political discussions through social justice advocacy or calling one’s representative.
When discussing, we also have to keep in mind that China has thrived on a centralized government for thousands of years, partially because most people didn’t want to be involved with politics and trusted the government. Although silencing controversy through censorship will not suffice as a long-term plan, this act makes China’s population of 1.4 billion people easier to manage for now. Furthermore, contrary to suggestions I’ve read in American news, Victor Gao, Director of the China National Association of International Studies and the translator for Chairman Deng Xiaoping, told CNN that even though it is possible for Xi to serve for life, it is unlikely.
It’s impossible for anyone to say at this point whether Xi’s endless presidency is definitively good or bad for China, but it is important for Chinese citizens to discuss and engage in politics. Legislation, campaigns, and agendas should be publicized with the intention to inform the public, not to assure everyone that life is great. Citing Ben Xu’s book, “Politics is Everyone’s Business!” Chinese citizens should definitely pay attention to the actions of the government, and in return, the Chinese government must not censor discussions on political topics.
Skylar Xu is a two-year Lower from Beijing, China. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org