China today sought to dismiss the worldwide concerns over the prospect of President Xi Jinping becoming the "emperor for life", saying a strong and consistent leadership is needed for the country at this crucial stage of the country's modernisation.
The Communist Party of China, (CPC), which is in power since 1949, yesterday proposed to amend the country's Constitution to remove the two term limits for the President and Vice President, potentially allowing Xi to rule for life.
The CPC move triggered concerns as 64-year-old Xi would remain a single leader doing away with collective leadership system followed by the party to prevent a dictatorship of an individual emerging from the ranks.
The party opted for two term rule of the leadership after extensive deliberations over some of the disastrous policies pursued by party founder Mao Zedong like the infamous decade-long Cultural Revolution in 1966 in which millions of people were killed.
Asked about the global concerns over the spectre of authoritarian rule returning to haunt China with the elimination of the two-term rule for the top leader, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the media should stop guessing and speculating and put the constitutional amendment in proper perspective.
He said China's Constitution evolved "little by little" since it came into force in 1954.
"We hope that you can put the revision of the Constitution in perspective in the context of development of China," he said.
The global concerns also arise from Xi's ambitious modernisation of military, expansion of Chinese naval power into the disputed South China Sea, acquisition of naval logistic bases including in Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Gwadar in Pakistan under his first term.
Last October, Xi started his second five-year-term with a focus on transforming China, now the world's second largest economy, into "a mighty force" that could lead the world on political, economic, military and environmental issues.
Since he took over in 2013, Xi launched the multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which also included the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which traverses through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to expand China's influence worldwide.
In China too, the removal of the two-term rule is seen as perpetuation of Xi's rule.
Deng Yuwen, former editor of the Study Times newspaper affiliated with the Central Party School of the CPC, said the proposed change was a strong signal that Xi planned to stay on.
"This is a very clear sign that the president will remain in office beyond the existing term limit. We dont know if it could be life tenure at this stage," Deng told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who is the author of a 2015 biography of Xi, said that Xi is susceptible to making big mistakes because there are now almost no checks or balances.
"Essentially, he has become emperor for life," Lam was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
While the official media harped on the need for strong leadership for China's rise as global power, the party's theoreticians defended the move to transform the one-party rule into one leader rule by saying that such a move is the need for CPC's rule.
Party theoreticians say as the CPC set to celebrate its seven decades in power next year, the fall of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and disintegration of the powerful Soviet socialist empire weighs in heavily in the minds of party leadership.
Removing the constitutional restriction to two terms is a significant decision made by the CPC to serve its historic mission in the new era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the CPC, told the Global Times yesterday.
"Especially in the period from 2020 to 2035, which is a crucial stage for China to basically realise socialist modernisation, China and the CPC need a stable, strong and consistent leadership. So removal of the section of the clause about the presidency in the Constitution is serving the most important and fundamental national interest and the Party's historic mission," Su said.
"The decision has been made after careful consideration, and this is an adjustment to serve China's current situation and future development, which is consistent with Chinese political characteristics and goals," an unnamed Chinese scholar told the Global Times.
The trinity of Xi being the general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, the president and chairman of the Central Military Commission has positive meaning, he said.
"In order to achieve the great goal from 2020 to the middle of the 21st century, China needs a centralised and unified leadership; otherwise the decentralisation of authority will impact realisation of the great goal,"CPC's official newspaper the People's Daily said in its editorial.
The choice of when to leave for Xi to make. "He will be judged not by how long he stays but by how well China does while he is at the top," a commentary in the Post said.