President Xi Jinping’s efforts to indefinitely extend his rule as China’s leader, announced on Sunday, raised fresh fears in China of a resurgence of strongman politics — and fears abroad of a new era of hostility and gridlock.
Mr. Xi, who has been president since 2013, has tried to cultivate an image as a benevolent father figure who is working to promote China’s peaceful rise.
But the ruling Communist Party’s decision to open a path to a third term for Mr. Xi heightened a sense of resentment in China among academics, lawyers, journalists and business executives. Many have watched warily as Mr. Xi has used his power to imprison scores of dissidents, stifle free speech and tighten oversight of the economy, the world’s second largest.
Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing who is critical of Mr. Xi, said the change to the Constitution would turn Mr. Xi into a “super-president.”
“He will have no limits on his power,” he said.
Government censors rushed to block criticism of the decision. Internet memes depicted Mr. Xi as an emperor with no regard for the rule of law and showed a portrait of Mr. Xi replacing Mao’s hallowed image in Tiananmen Square. Another repurposed an ad for Durex condoms, adding a tag line — “Twice is not enough” — to poke fun at the idea of Mr. Xi angling for a third term.
The party’s move comes as Mr. Xi has proclaimed an era of China’s greatness, when the country, he says, will take what he see as its rightful place as a top global power. Already, it is establishing military bases in the Western Pacific and Africa, building infrastructure across Asia, parts of Europe and Africa, and running what Mr. Xi hopes will be the world’s No. 1 economy within two decades or sooner.
“China feels it is on the road to great power status and they want to perpetuate the trajectory they are on,” said David Finkelstein, director of China Studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va.
「中國感覺正走在通往大國地位的道路上,他們想讓這種軌跡永遠持續下去,」位於維吉尼亞州阿靈頓的研究機構美國海軍分析中心(Center for Naval Analyses,簡稱CNA)的中國研究主任馮德威(David Finkelstein)說。
去年,川普與習近平在北京的一個會議上會見了商界領袖後走下台。 DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Some analysts outside China said they worried that allowing Mr. Xi one-man rule might worsen an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and China.
After years of efforts by the United States to engage China on issues from market reform to climate change to human rights, the Trump administration turned on Beijing last December and called China a strategic competitor in its first national security document.
Washington policymakers are preparing plans to impose tariffs on some Chinese imports, limit Chinese investments in the United States, particularly in technology, and spend more on the United States military to sustain its big advantage over the People’s Liberation Army.
In Congressional testimony earlier this month, the director of the F.B.I., Christopher Wray, described China as “not just a whole of government threat but a whole of society threat.”
本月早些時候在國會作證時,聯邦調查局(FBI)局長克里斯托弗·雷(Christopher Wray)稱中國「不僅是十足的政府威脅,還是十足的社會威脅」。
Mr. Trump may well see Mr. Xi’s consolidation of power as part of a global trend toward increasingly influential leaders, in which he might include himself along with Mr. Xi and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian leader, said James Mann, the author of “The China Fantasy,” which contradicted the popular view that increasing prosperity would lead to political liberalization in China.
《中國幻想》(The China Fantasy)的作者詹姆斯·曼(James Mann)說,川普很可能認為習近平鞏固權力的舉動,屬於一種全球趨勢,即國家領導人的權力愈來愈大,他也許還會把自己、習近平和俄羅斯領導人弗拉基米爾·V·普丁(Vladimir V. Putin)歸入這個趨勢中。《中國幻想》一書還反駁了一個流行的觀點,即日漸繁榮會帶來中國的政治自由化。
“I’m guessing he will not deplore the lack of democracy in China, because that’s the sort of thing he rarely if ever does,” Mr. Mann said of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Mann also said Mr. Trump might not have much problem with what Mr. Xi had accomplished.
“Over the past 14 months in office, Trump has almost never voiced the sort of support for our constitutional system that has been a staple in the statements of past presidents,” Mr. Mann said. “He does not respect the dignity or integrity of political opponents. He does not express support for the independence of the courts or the freedom of the press.”
So if anything, he said, “I think Trump is probably jealous.”
From Clinton to Bush to Obama, the prevailing belief was engagement with China would make China more like the West.
Instead, as Mr. Mann predicted, China has gone in the opposite direction.
Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said Mr. Xi likely did not care how the world would interpret his designation as a potential ruler in perpetuity.
With an unlimited term in office, Mr. Xi would almost certainly be in office beyond 2024, the year Mr. Trump would leave the White House if he won a second term.
“This objectively makes him stronger than Trump, who has no reason to like the change,” Mr. Shi said.
At home, Mr. Xi will likely have considerable support for a third term, the result of a yearslong campaign to sideline political rivals and limit dissent. And nationalists cheered the decision, describing Mr. Xi as a singular force who could restore the glory of the nation.
But as the news spread, readings of Hannah Arendt who wrote about the evils of totalitarian rule, and passages from George Washington, who retired after two terms as president, were discussed on social media in Chinese legal circles.
但隨著這一消息的傳播,中國法律界人士在社群媒體上討論起了漢娜·阿倫特(Hannah Arendt)關於極權主義統治危害的文章;以及喬治·華盛頓(George Washington)在兩屆總統任期結束後辭職的經歷。
Douglas H. Paal, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the sudden move, before Mr. Xi even starts his second term next month, suggested that things were not “normal” within the Communist Party.
卡內基國際和平研究院(Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)的中國專家包道格(Douglas H. Paal)說,在習近平下月開始第二屆任期前,突如其來的這一舉動表明共產黨內部情況並不「正常」。
“This looks like forced marching, not normal order, so something is going on,” Mr. Paal said. “Xi is winning, but it will take sleuthing to find out what. These are not ordinary times.”
A series of visits by senior Chinese officials to Washington in the past month to try and persuade the Trump administration to slow down plans to introduce punitive measures that could result in a trade war had failed, Mr. Paal said.
“This could get complicated when controversial U.S. initiatives meet unconventional times in China,” he said.
Still, Mr. Xi is popular in many areas — his fans affectionately call him “Uncle Xi” — and his brand of folksy nationalism wins accolades, especially in rural areas. Experts said Mr. Xi would likely benefit from the perception in China that the rest of the world is chaotic.
“With a population amazed at the incompetent mess in much of the rest of the world, and intoxicated by nationalism, for Xi to effect this change will be seen as reasonable,” said Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese politics at King’s College, London.
「因為大批人民對世界大部分地區的無能混亂感到驚訝,又陶醉在民族主義之中,習近平實行這一改變將被視作合理,」倫敦國王學院(King\'s College London) 中國政治研究教授凱利·布朗(Kerry Brown)說道。
But Mr. Xi’s assumption of unfettered power may not work out the way he thinks, said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and a former senior Australian defense official.
但澳洲戰略政策研究所(Australian Strategic Policy Institute)的執行主任、澳洲前國防部高官彼得·詹寧斯(Peter Jennings)表示,習近平關於無限權力的想法可能不會像他設想的那樣實現。
“The risks to his personal fortunes are huge,” he said. “What if the People’s Liberation Army decides he should be cut loose?” And, he added, “What if growth slows more than expected?”
If Mr. Xi comes under pressure at home or abroad, he could become unpredictable, and even dangerous, Mr. Jennings said. The reach for more personal power could be the start of his downfall.
“The West can take no comfort in that because Xi’s situation means he may take more risks in the South China Sea or over Taiwan,” he said. “He has nothing to lose and everything to gain by engaging in more Putin-like brinkmanship.”
Moreover, he added, “Where does one ever see the ‘president for life’ model end well?”