It is customary in China for Communist Party leaders to retire one they reach 68 – but that hasn’t stopped President Xi Jinping’s defiant plans for a historic third term.

It’s all but certain the leader will be granted yet another term once the 20th Party Congress kicks off on October 16, which will mean he’ll be in the top job until 2027.

But at 69, he’s already past retirement age – and at the end of his third term, he’ll be in his mid-70s.

And there’s also been renewed speculation his quest for power could extend even further, with many believing Xi might be plotting to “rule for life”.

According to an analysis by Bloomberg, there have been no exceptions to the retirement age rule in the past 20 years – until now.

And attention is turning to whether Xi now plans to remove the rule altogether – or to continue flaunting the clear double standard, while forcing others younger than him to step down.

There are obvious downsides to both options, as the age limit norm has been a convenient excuse to eliminate rivals and elevate disciples for decades.

But on the other hand, keeping the rule would mean Xi was restricted to a much younger – and less experienced – team during a period if intense instability for the nation, given the ongoing Covid pandemic, economic woes and escalating geopolitical tensions.

Chen Gang, assistant director and senior research fellow of National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute, recently told Bloomberg removing the requirement would be majorly disruptive.

“If such a criteria disappears, I think it would lead to chaos,” he said.

“It’s likely major disagreements could occur.”

Xi’s quest for power

The path to Xi’s third term has been a work in progress, starting back in 2012 when he first rose to power.

Since then, he has systematically weakened a range of succession precedents emerge as the toughest leader since Mao Zedong.

One major example was seen in 2018 when China’s two-term limit – which was enshrined in the constitution – was repealed.

However, Dr Alexander Korolev, senior lecturer in politics and international relations in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, told recently that Xi’s chances of “lifelong rule” would depend on a range of factors, including the economic situation and a potential split within the Chinese Communist Party.

He said Xi had “successfully eliminated” all other potential leadership candidates and the fact there were no significant contenders for the top job on the horizon indicated he was likely to remain in power for the “foreseeable future”.

Dr Korolev said while China’s economy was clearly slowing, the regime was growing more and more authoritarian – a trend which would likely worsen with time.

“Power was much more diffused under the previous leadership – it was less concentrated but now it is literally one person ruling,” he said.

“There are risks of course – a one-person system looks very solid but is actually more brittle; there is an intrinsic weakness associated with this kind of system.

“But if Xi stays in power I think it will become even more authoritarian and more centralised and one contributing factor is not only the domestic situation but also the increasingly complex geopolitical situation and the deteriorating US/China relations.”

Xi’s latest power grab also comes amid significant economic turmoil within China, with growth projections plummeting from 5.5 per cent in March to less than 3 per cent today.

The falling growth rate is the result of a string of factors including widespread Covid shutdowns, a crisis within the property sector and a severe drought and heatwave which has affected productivity.

Read related topics:China




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