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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 13)

2018/03/13 07:04

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Turning back the clock

Term limit elimination paves way for one-man rule

China's rubber-stamp legislature passed a constitutional amendment aimed at abolishing term limits Sunday, allowing President Xi Jinping to rule infinitely. The abolition signals a return to one-man rule, although authorities deny this.

Xi, who became Chinese president in 2012, is supposed to step down in 2022 under the Constitution. But he can extend his rule without any limits following the constitutional revision. This means he could become president for life.

Chinese authorities may argue the term limit elimination is necessary to give Xi an extended mandate so he can continue sustainable economic growth and make China strong.

Of course, the revision could help Xi exercise stronger leadership with no term restrictions. And most Chinese people may want the president to stay in power for more than 10 years.

But we have to figure out why China has so far maintained the term limits since the death of Mao Zedong. Reformist Deng Xiaoping introduced the limit in 1982 to prevent repetition of a Mao-style dictatorship. No one can deny Mao monopolized power and acted like an emperor. His dictatorship resulted in the chaotic Cultural Revolution.

China has maintained the collective leadership system for more than 35 years since Deng's rule. Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao championed the system under which a president could not serve more than two consecutive terms for a maximum 10 years.

The scrapping of the term limits has many reasons to be seen as anachronistic because it runs counter to democratic principles. It may not be proper to tell China to follow a Western-style democratic system with separation of power or multi-party rule.

But everyone knows absolute power corrupts absolutely as seen under Mao's dictatorship. Allowing the concentration of excessive power in the hands of one ruler is dangerous. As such, enabling Xi or his successors to have unfettered power with no term limits will do more harm than good not only to China but across the globe.

The constitutional change also raises the specter of a cult of personality. Xi's personal political philosophy was put into the preamble of the Constitution. This may be designed to put Xi on par with Mao and Deng. It is worrisome to see China reviving a cult of personality in the 21st century.

There are fears that developments in China will have a negative effect on other countries. South Korea may face greater challenges arising from a more assertive China seeking regional hegemony.

Korea has already suffered damage due to China's economic retaliation over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile battery in the South. No one knows what would happen if an emperor-like ruler were to introduce more self-serving and China-centric policies against its neighbors.