The Watcher: Meaning and significance of China’s constitutional amendment
Robert L. Kuhn
I’m Robert Lawrence Kuhn and here’s what I’m watching - the Amendment to the State Constitution, a prime focus of attention at the 2018 National People’s Congress here in Beijing.
To judge by the whirlwind of Western reactions, one could be forgiven for assuming that the only clause in the amendment is abolishing term limits for the president and vice president. In fact, there are more than 20 separate clauses in this Constitutional Amendment – all proposed by the Party’s Central Committee - and to understand where China is going, one must understand the meaning and intent of the totality of all the clauses.
This amendment is the first in well over a decade, so the question must be asked, why now? What is it about China’s “New Era” that demands numerous constitutional changes? And that includes term limits.
In a phrase, this Constitutional Amendment, with all its clauses, is all about strengthening China’s system of governance, especially the Party’s leadership of the country and President Xi’s leadership of the Party and the country.
Xi has been consistent in respecting, indeed in championing, China’s Constitution, and now, by amending the Constitution, he enhances alignment between the realities of how China is actually governed and what the Constitution actually says - thus bolstering Xi’s commitment to the Rule of Law.
Establishing the National Supervisory Law and Commissions, expanding the anti-corruption campaign to all public organs and organizations, is also consistent. As for term limits, it is not that Xi will hold the formal titles of leadership for life, but that he will hold real leadership long enough to bring about China’s national rejuvenation and establish a Chinese kind of democratic norms.
Xi’s vision for mid-century China, China 2050, is for the country to be “prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.” All factors considered, because of China’s special conditions and Xi’s special capabilities, abolishing term limits may be good for China.
It is commonly said that the system can ensure stability and consistency, which is requirement for advancing reform. But with one person holding China’s three top positions – Party, Military, State – without term limits - what are the checks and balances? I'm keeping watch. I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn.
(Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn is a CGTN anchor, a public intellectual, international corporate strategist and investment banker.)