Delegates of the National People's Congress voted almost unanimously to end presidential term limits on Sunday, enabling Chinese President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely.
The vote ends the two-term limit for Chinese presidents, thanks to the nearly 3,000 members of China's legislative body. An astonishing 2,958 members of Chinese parliament voted 'yes.' Only two lawmakers voted in the negative, and three abstained. This overturns China's previous constitutional rule, ratified with their Constitution in 1982, which limited presidents to serving two five-year terms. Like the 22nd Amendment to the U.S Constitution, China imposed term limits on its presidents because it feared leaders remaining in power indefinitely was a recipe for tyranny.
Bloomberg Asia made a video about President Xi's rise to power.
Technically speaking, Chinese presidents have limited powers as heads of state, unlike American presidents who not only manage a branch of government, but also lead the military. Chinese presidents can declare war and states of emergency, although unlike their American counterparts, don't typically directly influence lawmaking, Chinese presidents' political power is limited in scope. The general secretary of the Communist Party sets domestic and foreign policy and controls the military and domestic security agencies. As figureheads, China's presidents are the country's chief emissaries to the world.
"This difference is reflected in language. In Chinese, China's president is called "zhuxi," which really translates as "chairman." Foreign presidents get a different title, "zongtong.," wrote Chris Buckley and Adam Wu in the New York Times. "So in effect, Chinese people are referring to Mr. Xi as the "state chairman," though in English his title is officially translated as "state president" to put him on an even footing with other world leaders."
Though the Chinese presidency is itself limited, Xi also serves as head of the Communist Party and leader of the military. Neither of these posts have term limits, and it's this technicality that Chinese officials used to justify their vote to further consolidate Xi's power. Presidential term limits were enacted to prevent one person from wielding unlimited, unending power.
China remains the main intermediary between the United States and North Korea, so it's not too surprising that President Donald Trump actually praised and congratulated Xi for what appeared to be an inevitable vote in his favor. "He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day." Oddly, his comments were met with applause by conservative supporters.
Trump's supporters insist his comments about ending presidential term limits in the United States were a joke, but Trump has a habit of admiring and palling around with authoritarian leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom last year was granted an enormous expansion of presidential power.
Trump appears unaware, or just willfully ignorant, of the fact that until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1947, United States presidents were not bound by term limits. Our 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was elected to four terms, though he died of polio complications on April 12, 1945, eight days shy of three months into his fourth term.