The scrapping of constitutional limits on presidential terms is one step back in China’s political reform, and will put China's development and people's lives at tremendous risk.
Scrapping limits puts the nation at tremendous risk
The adoption of presidential term limits in the 1982 constitution was a historic reform measure taken by the Communist Party and the people of China after the immense suffering of the Cultural Revolution.
Dropping the limits will again plant the seeds of chaos and lead to serious damage.
Once China loses its checks on its leaders, the nation’s future development will depend on a dice roll. If the leader makes the right decision, thank God; if the person makes mistakes, we will have no way to stop him. Power without checks leads to corruption and abuse. With no restriction from the system, even great people make big, irreversible mistakes.
Although in China, the office of president is only ceremonial, the term limits on the role have so far been the most effective restriction on the power of top leaders. In reality, having the party general secretary serve two terms has also become a norm. We hope China will continue to move forward along these lines.
Many Chinese intellectuals agree that the country, with a heavy legacy from imperial dictatorships, needs a strong leadership to oversee its modernization. But the leadership should devote itself to raising the level of China’s political civilization, bringing it closer to universal values, instead of taking the country back to the Mao Zedong era.
Mao’s rule led to disasters such as the Anti-Rightist Movement, the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution. By abandoning Mao’s way, China has been able to make impressive economic achievements. However, over the past five years, we have seen some dangerous signs of China returning to the Mao era.
There are renewed calls for Communism and even for abolishing private ownership. The intellectual community shares the impression that the past five years have seen the strongest oppression of free speech in decades. Authorities have been blocking social media accounts and taking down online articles, trying to shut people’s mouths.
In terms of international affairs, China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, should seek international arbitration to solve territorial disputes like the ones involving the South China Sea and the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
Showing military muscle, even if it works in the short term, will not win China any respect from the international community.
The history of the past 40 years has proved that the key to China’s rapid development lies in delegating power to the people.
In a society suffocated by political power, areas where the hold on power is loosened have resulted in rapid development.
China’s agricultural output blossomed only a few years after farmers were allowed to manage their land. And none of the successful private enterprises today are a result of party supervision. In the future, giving power to society will be the fundamental driver and the only choice for China’s growth.
Another key problem facing China is that the massive wealth produced here is not benefiting its people. China’s GDP and government revenues are the second highest in the world, but the proportion that goes to ordinary people remains small. The current leadership seems to have no intention of changing that. Government spending on domestic security has surpassed national defense budgets. It is using the wealth created by the people to control its people. What will happen if this kind of governance continues indefinitely?
Li Datong is a former editor at the China Youth Daily. He made headlines last week by calling on Beijing lawmakers to vote against the abolition of presidential term limits.