Pro-Beijing heavyweight Ip Kwok-him said that China’s removal of presidential term limits will give more flexibility, as party positions do not have a term limits. But he said he opposed lifelong leadership.

On Sunday, state news wire Xinhua reported that the Communist Party is to propose removing the term limits of the president and vice-president. The plan will likely be approved next month at the annual full session of the National People’s Congress. Chinese President Xi Jinping could stay in office indefinitely after his second term ends in 2023.

Ip, a delegate to the National People’s Congress, said there was no such term limitation for Chinese Communist Party positions, and so the party may be seeking to coordinate the policy between party and state positions. He did not agree that such changes would see a return of lifelong leadership for Chinese leaders.

Ip Kwok-him. Photo: LegCo.

“Currently, the party secretary and the Politburo do not have a limitation [of terms] either, but they strictly work only for two terms,”  he said on a Commercial Radio programme on Monday.

“It is a rather flexible approach, I mainly consider it from this angle,” he said.

Asked about his personal stance, he said: “I do not agree with a lifelong leadership system, I believe there should be an appropriate arrangement in terms of system, and we can discuss it.”

“After the past 70 years, Chinese people have a deep knowledge of lifelong leaderships and the cult of personality… The key issue is not the Chinese President, but it is that the Chinese Communist Party – the party leading the country – will not establish a lifelong leadership, will not have a cult of personality, this is the main point.”

Xi Jinping. File photo: GovHK.

Ip was asked by the hosts as to whether it should be the other way round – setting a formal limit for the party positions – but he said: “Then there is a problem – maybe we should consider how a strong leader can lead a country to look into the future, to be able to develop in a public state position, as he remains in a party position.”

Ip would not speculate as to how long Xi could stay in power: “This is a change in the system, in the constitution.”

‘Inseparable from a tyranny’

But 16 Chinese activists, including Wang Dan, Wu’er kaixi, Yan Jiaqi and Wang Juntao, issued a statement criticising that the change, saying that it will create a foundation for lifelong leadership.

“We believe that the abolition of this rule is the equivalent of Yuan Shikai’s return of imperial dynasty, it is the implementation of a new imperial system, it is anti-republic, it is a great reversal of history – it is a complete denial of 40 years of reforms,” they said.

Wang Dan. Photo: 王丹网站 Wang Dan’s Page.

Yuan Shikai was the first formal president of the Republic of China, but he attempted an 83-day restoration of the monarchy to make himself the emperor. He died shortly after the move failed.

“A lifelong leadership at the highest position of power is inseparable from tyranny – it will bring disasters to the country and the people.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.