China's Xi about to go the Full Mao?

And you never go the Full Mao, unless you’re Mao himself … or maybe Xi Jinping. China’s parliament, which acts as a rubber stamp for the Communist Party leadership, will likely enact a constitutional change that will eliminate term limits for its presidency. And guess who benefits most from the change — or at least first?

China’s official news agency, Xinhua, announced the dramatic news on Sunday in a bland 36-word dispatch. It paves the way for Xi to remain in power well into the next decade and perhaps even beyond.

The report said the Communist party’s 205-member central committee had proposed China’s constitution be modified so that it no longer contained a section stipulating that the president and vice-president “shall serve no more than two consecutive [five-year] terms”.

Jude Blanchette, an expert in Chinese politics from New York’s Conference Board research group, said: “It’s amazing. I just did not think this was possible. I just thought it was way too aggressive and bold [a move] and unnecessarily so.

“It’s an unequivocal signal that Xi Jinping has designs to stay on past 2023. I don’t think there is any other way to read it other than the four-decade long project that Deng Xiaoping initiated to set hard term limits on power to make sure that a Mao figure never came back is being dismantled.

“You just need to look a few thousand miles to the west in Russia to see what this potentially looks like.”

Russia and China share a border, which would put much of Asia into the lifetime rule of just two men — neither of them terribly friendly to the US. Vladimir Putin has made his rule less an ideological constant and more just a pure exercise in power. Xi has set himself up as a philosopher-dictator in the mold of Mao, having an entire new section added to the constitution called “Xi Jinping Thought.” It’s the unveiling of a new personality cult.

And don’t think that the Chinese don’t know it. They’re already finding out what happens when the proles speak out against the Sun God. The crackdown ahead of the vote speaks for itself:

China’s plan for President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely has sparked social media opposition, drawing comparisons to North Korea’s ruling dynasty and charges of creating a dictator by a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist.

The social media reaction late on Sunday quickly saw China swing into a concerted propaganda push by Monday, blocking some articles and publishing pieces praising the party. …

But it seems the party will have its work cut out trying to convince some in China, where Xi is actually very popular thanks in part to his war on graft, that the move will not end up giving Xi too much power.

“Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” wrote one Weibo user, where the Kim dynasty has ruled since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded North Korea in 1948 and his family has ruled it ever since.

”We’re following the example of our neighbor,’ wrote another user.

As John Fund notes, the cult of personality has been cultivated (pardon the pun) for quite a while in China. The “war on graft” is a key part of that effort, but its motivations aren’t exactly all about clean government:

“China does not need another Mao, but it’s going to get one anyway,” Gordon Chang, a noted China analyst and a Daily Beast columnist, told me. “God help us all, Chinese and others.”

Chang reminded me that after Mao Zedong’s bloody and ruthless 27 years of one-man rule, which ended with his death in 1976, reformers vowed not to take chances that one person could monopolize power again. Deng Xiaoping and other survivors of the Cultural Revolution, including the father of Xi Jinping, sought to limit arbitrary power. They set a limit of two five-year terms on the presidency and vice presidency, and safeguards to ensure that major decisions would be made by a collective leadership.

Since he first took office, Xi has consistently worked to centralize his authority. Anti-corruption campaigns have carefully targeted political rivals and driven them out of office. He has waived informal retirement-age requirements so that Wang Qishan, his right-hand man, can stay in office. Xi’s portrait hangs everywhere in the country, in a clear effort to create a cult of personality. Along with putting an end to term limits, the 205-member Central Committee of the Communist Party has also announced that it will insert “Xi Jingping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” a 14-point basic policy plan, into the nation’s constitution. It’s as if President Trump tried to add the tenets of The Art of the Deal to our governing document.

All of this amounts to a slow-motion coup against the safeguards that Communist reformers set up in the 1980s. When, in October 2017, CNN asked Jeff Wasserstrom, a China analyst at the University of California, to name the five most powerful people in China, he replied: “Xi, Xi, Xi, Xi, and Xi.”

It’s bad enough having one North Korea, but that country has very limited resources and its strike range is still severely limited. China, on the other hand, is the world’s most populous country and among the wealthiest. Imagine what Mao himself would have done with the material and military resources Xi now has, and especially with a more approachable partner in Moscow like Putin rather than Stalin, Khrushchev, or Brezhnev. Creating sovereign islands in international waters will be just the beginning. Xi will have the ability to re-create a form of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, by the threat of force if not force itself. North Korea is relatively easy to isolate, but with a dictatorial China bent on regional domination, isolation will be impossible.

This is a very bad development, one which should have red flags (again pardon the pun) going up at the White House and State Department. It should also remind us why we need a robust US Navy to protect and defend international trading routes as well as to remind our friends that we will not get pushed out of the Pacific. It’s time to get serious about our long-term staying power in that theater.