China’s state media has attacked western critics of constitutional amendments which abolished term limits for its president, and vice-president and added clauses consolidating the Communist Party’s role in political and social life.

The historic constitutional amendment was passed by the rubber-stamp parliament on Sunday with 2,958 votes in favour, two votes against, three abstentions, and one invalid vote.

The proposed changes were announced at the end of last month, and public discussion was quickly stifled. However, some managed to evade online censorship to express dissent.

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China’s President Xi Jinping. File photo: Pool/Jim Bourg/AFP.

The official English-language newspaper China Daily said in an editorial on Sunday that the near-unanimous vote proved western critics wrong.

It accused detractors in the west of viewing China through their own irrational biases and insisted that the revisions “do not mean the end of the retirement system for Party and State leaders, nor does it imply lifetime tenure for any leader.”

Without naming names, the editorial said: “These naysayers casually disregard the fact that China’s political system has developed and is evolving in accordance with the country’s unique national conditions.”

“Instead, they revel in their ignorance of China’s reality and hold fast to their mean, even malicious predisposition toward China’s political system out of their irrational, subjective and unprofessional ideological bias.”

It said that the revisions give full play to the advantages of China’s political system and is conducive to strengthening leadership, adding: “what the country’s leaders are pursuing is in complete conformity with the well-being of the Chinese people.”

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File photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times also defended the constitutional amendments, saying that the leadership of the party was instrumental in China’s success after opening up, and that Chinese people expect the consolidation of “the guiding thought, Party leadership, the leadership structure and the improved supervisory mechanism when China faces arduous tasks in the new era.”

“Nonetheless some Westerners who fail to figure out Chinese people’s opinion want to be the backseat driver. They should have been more objective and modest in the face of China’s long history and great practice.”

‘Live censorship’

The abolition of term limits ignited fears that it could bring about a return to the era of Mao Zedong – the Communist leader who was responsible for the The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The Great Leap Forward, which resulted in one of the world’s worst famines, was responsible for at least 45 million deaths, according to historian Frank Dikötter.

According to Ming Pao, after the revisions were passed, a Reuters journalist asked officials at a press conference how the central government would handle strongman leadership, political turmoil, power struggles during leadership reshuffles or even another cultural revolution if such events were to arise.

The term “cultural revolution” was not mentioned in the official translation during the event, nor in an official media report.

In response to the question, NPC official Shen Chunyao said the concerns were unfounded as the Communist Party has managed to solve a number of key challenges during its over 90 years’ history, including how to ensure the orderly transition of the party and state leaders at all levels, according to Xinhua.

‘Bunch of voting machines’

Sharon Hom, the Executive Director of NGO Human Rights in China, said the amendments were a devastating move backwards for China: “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.”

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A protest in Hong Kong. Photo: In-Media.

Li Datong, the former editor of the state-run China Youth Daily editor, told French broadcaster RFI that the move crossed the bottom line. The 66-year-old had circulated an open letter urging NPC representatives to reject the amendment.

“People of our age all experienced an era where the top leader of China did not have term limits – this is the era of Mao Zedong, who is absolutely a heinous sinner for a thousand centuries, killing tens of millions of Chinese people and extinguishing the entire intellectual elite. This kind of tyrant, but he does not have a term limit. He brought China massive calamity.”

He also called the representatives of the National Congress “a bunch of voting machines.”

“The majority of these two thousand representatives oppose it in their hearts, but… apart from applauding enthusiastically, they cannot do anything else. Nobody dares.”

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catherine lai

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.