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China Silences Online Critics of Unlimited Presidential Term Move

Expressions like “disagree” and “I oppose” have been blocked on Chinese social media platforms, shortly after the proposal to revise the country’s presidential term limit.

Expressions like “disagree” and “I oppose” have been blocked on Chinese social media platforms, shortly after the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee proposed revising the country’s presidential term limit.

State-run news agency Xinhua said the Committee proposed removing the provision that the President and Vice President “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” from the Constitution.

If the proposal passes the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March, President Xi Jinping, now 64, will be allowed to serve indefinitely as the country’s head of the party and the military.

Mr. Xi did not appoint any young potential successor during last year’s 19th Party Congress, raising suspicions that he would stay in power for a third term beyond 2022.

“This is not entirely unexpected. It’s less ambitious than recreating the position of ‘Chairman’ for the Party Central Committee,” Yang Dali, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, told The Globe Post.

He added that in the past, “core” leaders in China continued to wield power after they officially retired, which often created confusion and conflicts.

“The elimination of the two-term limit for the presidency thus helps to clear up some of that confusion but opens the door to leaders serving indefinitely,” Mr. Yang said.

China’s state-run English newspaper, the Global Times, said in an editorial that the amendment to term limit does not mean “Chinese president will have a lifelong tenure.” Instead, it could “help maintain the trinity system and improve the institution of leadership of the CPC and the nation.”

The party is applying more means to convince some in China. Following the announcement of proposed constitutional changes, several terms that hinted at Mr. Xi and dictatorship were blocked on social platforms such as Weibo and Wechat. Censored terms range from “The Emperor’s Dream” to “long live,” from “Xi Zedong” to George Orwell’s novel “1984.”

The theme song “Another 500 Years for Heaven” of a well-known Chinese TV series “Kangxi Dynasty,” often used by Chinese citizens to mock leaders who eagerly seize power, has also been censored.

“On Chinese Internet, what’s been censored the most always reflects things that censor fears the most,” Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at University of California at Berkeley, who also founded censorship-watching organization China Digital Times, told The Globe Post.

“Currently banned keywords such as ‘ascended the throne,’ ‘proclaim oneself emperor’ and ‘I oppose’ on Chinese social media are precisely those expressions which reflect Chinese citizens’ attitudes towards President Xi,” he said.

The presidential term change is just a part of a set of amendments to China’s constitution, which has not been changed since 2004. The proposal will also add Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the fundamental law and authorize an anti-corruption superbody that Mr. Xi has pushed for.

The proposal is almost certain to be enacted into law by the National People’s Congress in March. The Congress has never voted against a proposal from party leaders.

“Within China, the authorities have imposed severe limits on the discussion in social media, and the official media has been mobilized to express support for the move. It doesn’t look likely that there will be a significant pushback ahead of the National People’s Congress (NPC) annual session,” Mr. Yang said. “Deliberations during the NPC annual sessions will be limited.”

Those Chinese citizens, who have had limited education opportunities and exposure to the outside world, may even think that Mr. Xi would be “an enlightened leader, just like the Chinese people did in the past to the Chinese emperors,” Li Hak-yin, lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The Globe Post.

“If Xi fails to be an enlightened leader, and Xi cannot deliver a satisfactory governing performance, social unrest and chaos could be expected,” he warned.

China’s move has sparked debates not only within the country, but abroad too. When asked about the proposal, the White House said, however, that the removal of the presidential term was an internal matter for the authorities in Beijing.

“I believe that’s a decision for China to make. [President Donald J. Trump] has talked about term limits in a number of capacities during the campaign and something that he supports here in the United States, but that’s a decision that’s up to China,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday.

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