Reforms to China’s constitution to remove term limits for the presidency does not mean life-long terms, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said on Thursday, after a surge of concern that Xi Jinping may stay in power forever.
The party made the announcement on Sunday, setting the stage for Xi to stay in office indefinitely should he wish, prompting accusations from some in the country that China is set to become another North Korea.
The amendment will be approved at this month’s annual meeting of China’s largely rubber stamp parliament, which is stacked with delegates loyal to the party who will not challenge its proposal.
In a lengthy commentary, the People’s Daily said the idea was an “important move” to cement the party’s leadership in every aspect.
“This amendment does not mean changing the retirement system for party and national leaders, and does not mean a life-long term system for leading officials,” the paper wrote.
It pointed out that the party’s constitution, which is different from the national constitution, clearly states that leaders cannot keep their offices forever and that if their health does not hold up they should retire.
The rules for who heads the party, the military and the state – all positions Xi currently holds – are all the same, the paper added.
“It is a system designed to accord with the national condition and ensure long-term peace and stability for the party and the country,” it said.
The party has had an unwritten rule that senior officials cannot be promoted once they reach the age of 68, though the party has said that this rule is exactly that – unwritten.
There has been heated speculation since the end of a once-every-five-years party congress in October about the fate of a close Xi ally, former top graft buster Wang Qishan, who stepped down from the elite Standing Committee at the congress, having reached the age of 69.
But he is expected to be appointed vice president at parliament, with a specific role dealing with the Trump administration.
The move is significant because if Wang does not retire, that would set a precedent for Xi, now 64, to stay in power after he reaches what is normally considered retirement age.
Xi will be formally elected to his second term as president at parliament, which opens on Monday. He began his second term as party boss in October.