The solution is to let Xi Jinping rule China for as long as he wants. But what was the problem?
Although the emperor-for-life arrangement had been in the pipeline for several months, the official announcement left Communist Party apologists scrabbling for a/the correct reason (they can’t just say they’re as clueless as the rest of us).
The stopgap position was that the Presidency is a mainly symbolic post, and scrapping the term limit simply brings it into line with the more important positions – so it’s just tidying up some little discrepancy we hadn’t noticed before, ha ha. But China’s censorship apparatus went into overdrive to suppress critical and any chatter about the change, confirming that the change was a big deal.
For Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing shoe-shiners, this is the nightmare challenge: use your wits and originality to produce an explanation that makes you sound authoritative without running the risk of contradicting the eventual official line.
Rita Fan opined that there is no-one else able to run China at this crucial time. This angle passes the Obsequiousness Test handsomely. But it raises the question of what is wrong with a system where only one person out of 1.4 billion can do the top job – what happens if the guy gets run over by a truck?
Regina Ip took a more academic tack, lecturing us that, unlike the West with its Magna Carta, China has barely even invented lawyers and needs stability, and look at Trump and Brexit. Trump can be used to justify almost anything, and the Western-democracy-is-mayhem idea is a useful distraction – even a compelling contrast with the competent-stable-meritocracy-dictatorship one. But the argument doesn’t make any sense. Has China been slipping towards dangerous populism? Does the emergence of an infant-wacko freak-show in the White House require China to change its constitution as a safeguard against something similar happening in Zhongnanhai? No.
In a more nuanced approach, Beijing commentator Hua Po explains that Xi inherited a mess and needs more time to train the strongman-successor China needs. While this maintains the Xi-is-unique-and-irreplaceable-if-not-actual-Messiah thread, it neatly blames someone else. If Hu Jintao hadn’t been such a lame loser (we infer), this wouldn’t be necessary.
This interpretation of the Xi power-grab seems to appeal to the pro-Beijing think-tank crowd. Hong Kong’s Shiu Sin Por expands on it by asking what would happen if Xi could only have one more term and left the anti-corruption campaign half-finished? We shudder to think, obviously.
However, it seems that Party theoreticians have now spun the definitive official account of why Xi needs to – sorry, China needs Xi to – have his personal and centralized grip on power extended for longer than previously envisaged. Thanks to grassroots and many regions and the Seventh Plenum and overwhelming appeals and consultations and surveys, it’s by unanimous popular demand.
Cue thunderous applause…