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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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China reappoints Xi as president with no term limit

Mar. 19, 2018

China's National People's Congress re-elected President Xi Jinping over the weekend, paving the way for an unlimited term in office. This had been expected for weeks, and the Congress voted in line with the Communist Party's recommendations. The Congress also elected Wang Qishan as vice president.

Wang is widely considered one of Xi's closest advisors. He led the country's anti-corruption campaign, which critics say helped Xi Jinping root out rivals and consolidate power. The 69-year-old stepped down from the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee last year due to a customary age limit. Observers say Wang's new position makes him number 2 in China's power structure.

The National People's Congress also selected 4 new vice premiers. The decision reflects a focus on the economy amid looming prospects of a trade war with the United States.

President Xi's economic adviser Liu He will take on one of the top spots. He's expected to oversee economic and financial policies. Liu recently visited the US following President Trump's pledge to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. Analysts say Liu's biggest challenge will be to mitigate financial risks while maintaining stable economic growth.

Other vice premiers include Han Zheng, Sun Chunlan and Hu Chunhua. In other developments, authorities sent a sign of continuity at the central bank. The long-serving governor Zhou Xiaochuan will be replaced by his deputy Yi Gang.

"I will try to implement moderate monetary policies, pursue existing reforms and keep the financial industry stable," said Yi.

The National People's Congress also approved Foreign Minister Wang Yi's promotion to the post of State Councilor.

Newsroom Tokyo Anchors Hideki Nakayama and Aki Shibuya are joined by University of Tokyo Professor Yasuhiro Matsuda. He's an expert on international politics in East Asia.

Nakayama: China has just appointed a new leadership with Xi Jinping at the helm. What can we learn from it?

Matsuda: The new vice president, Wang Qishan, is a key ally of President Xi Jinping. He formerly served as secretary of the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Wang has exercised his diplomatic ability in dealing with the US, and showed his competence both on the economy and in fighting corruption.

It's extremely rare for a person who once retired at the Communist Party's customary retirement age to take up the post of vice president. It suggests that President Xi has high expectations for Wang. Attention is now focused on what exactly Wang, who is considered an all-around politician, will be in charge of.

For diplomacy, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi both won a promotion. Yang has become a member of the Communist Party's Politburo, and Wang was chosen as a State Councilor while retaining his foreign ministerial post.

The promotions of the 2 mean that Xi Jinping's administration wants to give greater authority to veteran diplomats. The aim is to strengthen China's diplomatic ability as a major power.

I believe that China is ready to take more active diplomatic policies from now on. A close confidant of President Xi, Liu He, was chosen as one of the new vice premiers to deal with economic matters.

Liu is a technocrat who pushes for drastic structural reforms of the economy even if they were to produce side effects. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and many officials in charge of the economy weigh on stability.

So, I believe that we should keep an eye on whether there will be an internal struggle within the government in terms of the directions to pursue.

The most important event during China’s National People's Congress was the adoption of a constitutional amendment that scrapped the limit of 2 five-year terms for president. This means President Xi Jinping could stay in power indefinitely after his second term ends in 2023.

While China’s state-run media has reported support for the decision, concerns are also being voiced. Last month, a video was released on the internet, titled "The People's Leader." It was produced jointly by state-run broadcaster CCTV and the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, People's Daily.

"No matter what rank I achieve, I won't forget about the masses as my heart is devoted to the people," Xi's voice says in the video. The film stresses how Xi has always thought about the people while leading the country. It praises him by using a special term signifying deep respect, meaning "leader," which has only been used in the past for Mao Zedong.

The state-run media reports say members of the Congress unanimously voiced support for the amendment during the deliberations. On March 11th, the Congress adopted the amendment by an overwhelming majority, and scrapped the presidential term limit that had been in place for more than 30 years.

Meanwhile, critical opinions have appeared online, arguing that Xi could become a dictator. Video clips showing cars moving in reverse have been posted online, hinting at the anachronism of the Congress' decision.

One intellectual has stepped forward on social media using his real name in protesting the amendment. Li Datong is a former chief editor of a Communist Party-affiliated newspaper. Although his original post was censored, he managed to go around the authorities by posting photos of his message. "I am protesting so that Xi won't misunderstand as if everybody supports the amendment," he says.

Li warns that without a presidential term limit, China's political system is likely to become as unstable as during Mao's leadership. "The Party has become unbalanced, and that is dangerous. What Xi says goes unquestioned," he says.

Nakayama: What is President Xi Jinping's trying to do with a concentration of power on par with that of Mao Zedong?

Matsuda: President Xi felt a strong sense of crisis. Under the collective leadership of Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, needed reforms did not progress as planned and corruption was widespread. President Xi saw that this prevented China from achieving healthy economic growth, and that it stood as a big obstacle to China becoming a developed country.

He felt that corruption could jeopardize the leadership of the Communist Party. President Xi's response was to concentrate power rapidly and to wage a massive anti-corruption campaign.

I believe that to become a developed country, China needs to implement reforms such as market liberalization, allow more political freedom, and enforce the rule of law.

President Xi is seeking to turn China into a developed country by concentrating power in his own hands, boosting the party's authority, and reinforcing the government's control over markets.

President Xi's target and the measures he's taking contradict each other. And yet, that's what he is aiming to achieve.

Humans have learned from their long history that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In this sense, what President Xi is pursuing is almost impossible.

Shibuya: China is facing possibly radical diplomatic changes on the Korean Peninsula, including an inter-Korean summit and direct talks between Kim Jong Un and US President Trump. How is Beijing dealing with this situation?

Matsuda: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not meet a special envoy sent by President Xi last November.

But recently, he met delegates sent by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and decided to start dialogue with the United States. These developments alone suggest that relations between China and North Korea are now strained.

A summit between the US and North Korea and decreasing hostility between these 2 countries would be good news for Beijing. But China will feel uncomfortable if that happens while its influence over North Korea is waning.

To restore its influence, China may decide to approach North Korea. Such a move could enlarge a loophole in economic sanctions, which may undermine efforts made so far by the international community.

Also, China's willingness to steadily impose sanctions on North Korea depends on Beijing's relations with the US.

On the topic of China-US relations, authorities in Beijing have reacted to the enactment of legislation in the US promoting closer ties with Taiwan.

Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law on Friday. It encourages mutual visits between US and Taiwanese officials at all levels.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang issued a statement Saturday saying the law seriously violates the one-China principle. He said it sends the wrong signal to separatist forces in Taiwan. Lu warned that the act could do serious harm to China-US ties as well as peace and stability around the Taiwan Strait.

A spokesperson for China's Defense Ministry released a video in which he said the US was interfering in China's internal affairs and urged Washington to "correct its mistake." He also urged the US to cut military ties with Taiwan. Nakayama: What's your take on the future of relations between Washington, Beijing and Taipei?

Matsuda: The new US legislation stipulates that mutual visits by high-ranking US and Taiwanese officials are "allowed," but they are not requirements. In other words, the legal implementation is up to the administration.

So far, almost no Republican-controlled Congress has passed laws that would restrict the Republican administration's diplomatic authority.

The reason why this latest law was adopted by an overwhelming majority is that the Trump administration did not oppose it strongly. The White House regards this piece of legislation as a diplomatic bargaining chip against China. The US may boost contacts with senior Taiwanese officials depending on how China deals with trade and North Korea. If that happens, China could put pressure on both the US and Taiwan, which could destabilize relations between Beijing and Taipei.

Shibuya: Is there any prospect of better relations between China and Japan?

Matsuda: From Beijing's perspective, there are several factors that could lead to better ties with Japan. One is the status of relations between Beijing and Washington. If they worsen, or if uncertainty grows, that creates a window to improve ties with Tokyo.

Another factor is North Korea. Here too, worsening ties could have a positive impact. And then there's how well the Chinese economy is performing.

Right now, it's slowing down, meaning China depends more on other partners, and Japan is a very important one. Relations between Beijing and Prime Minister Abe have never been good. Until recently, China had been waiting for another prime minister to emerge. But Abe's clear victory in the general election last year indicated he would remain in power.

And that gave China a new incentive to try improving relations. The problem now is that Japan's Prime Minister is mired in a political scandal. And the confusion that prevails in Tokyo could affect bilateral relations.