March 12, 2018 / 12:58 AM / 6 months ago

Chinese papers defend removing term presidential limits

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese state media on Monday attacked criticism of a vote to end presidential term limits, which effectively allows President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely, saying the key to China’s path was following the Communist Party.

FILE PHOTO: Souvenir plates featuring portraits of former and current Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping and the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong are displayed for sale at a shop next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Chinam March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China’s largely rubber stamp parliament on Sunday overwhelmingly voted to amend the constitution, scrapping a two-term limit and adding clauses to strengthen the party’s already dominant role in politics.

In the run up to the vote, critics on Chinese social media attacked the change and drew parallels to North Korea or suggested a Mao Zedong-type cult of personality was forming. The party only announced the proposal last month.

In an editorial, the widely read Global Times tabloid said Western political theories were of no use to China.

“We are increasingly confident that the key to China’s path lies in upholding strong Party leadership and firmly following the leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core,” it said in an editorial carried in both its Chinese- and English-language editions.

“In these years we have seen the rise and decline of countries and particularly the harsh reality that the Western political system doesn’t apply to developing countries and produces dreadful results.”

The official China Daily reiterated a point previously made by the party’s People’s Daily that the amendment did not “imply lifetime tenure for any leader”.

“Yet some people in the West insist otherwise, even though it is only through specious speculation that they claim to know better,” the English-language paper said.

Such people - it did not name names - had a deep-rooted ideological bias against China and had made one failed prediction after another about China, it added.

“Their erroneous judgments are only a litany of short-sighted calumnies against the party and the nation.”

FILE PHOTO: A poster with a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping is displayed along a street in Shanghai, China, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

‘PAINFUL LESSON’

However, some mainstream Chinese papers chose only to mention the term limits in passing in editorials lauding the constitutional amendments, including the party’s official People’s Daily, which simply noted on its front page the “perfecting of the term system for the president”.

Another widely read paper, the Beijing Youth Daily, referred to the change as an “adjustment” that would help strengthen the party’s all-round leadership and protect its authority, but did not denounce critics.

While social media accounts of major state media outlets either disabled their comment section or only made visible comments praising the party, some words of dissent did manage to make it past the censors.

“How is it that socialism which is praised has become a monarchy making law?” wrote one user on the Weibo micro-blogging site.

“I really don’t dare to say anything about this,” wrote another, in a comment under an article on the constitution carried on the Weibo account of the People’s Liberation Army Daily. The entire comments section was later removed.

Only two “no” votes were cast, with three abstentions and one vote invalidated, from almost 3,000 delegates in parliament.

The U.S.-based group Human Rights in China said there were huge risks in allowing such a concentration of power.

“Ending the two-term limit ignores the painful lesson of the Mao era and exposes the Chinese people again to the massive human suffering, abuses and national catastrophe that could result from unaccountable power concentrated in the hands of one person,” Sharon Hom, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

On Beijing’s streets, there was support for Xi, who is well liked for his battle against deep-seated corruption and for raising the country’s profile on the world stage.

“Xi Jinping has done a lot of things to benefit people,” said Yang Zhen, 35. “I think whoever benefits people can stay there forever.”

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel

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