Xi likely to chase longer term at top

China | 10 Aug 2016

President Xi Jinping will probably seek to extend his term to more than 10 years, analysts say, the first Communist Party chief to do so since Deng Xiaoping.

The ruling party's leaders have reportedly gathered at their secretive annual Beidaihe retreat, where discussions are expected to focus on the composition of its next Politburo Standing Committee.

The 19th Party Congress, slated for next year, will decide a new PSC line- up, traditionally seen as indicating Xi's most likely successor after he steps down, due in 2022.

But Xi has thus far delayed anointing an heir. And while Chinese Communist leaders have often maintained influence after their official retirement, scholars and analysts increasingly believe Xi will try to stay in office beyond his standard term.

Willy Lam, expert on politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said there was a 60 to 70 percent chance that Xi would refuse to give up the role. Doing so would violate the unofficial rule set by Deng Xiaoping, who led China from 1978-1989, that general secretaries stay in office no longer than 10 years. That principle has helped smooth transfers of power within the party since the 1990s.

As well as ensuring regular renewal at the top, and opportunities for different Communist Party factions to dominate at different times, the concept also seeks to prevent the emergence of a despot.

China's constitution sets term limits for presidents and ministers, but there is no such rule for the party secretary.

Analysts say if Xi's close ally Wang Qishan, a PSC cadre who is due to retire, is allowed a second term it could establish a precedent for the party chief.

Xi has made his enduring ambition clear by installing himself as chairman of most of the powerful new groups within the party, said Victor Shih, professor at the University of California, San Diego.

More time as president could allow Xi to follow through on long-promised reforms and bolster his more assertive foreign policy in the South China Sea.

Analysts say Xi sees an enviable model in Russia's Vladimir Putin, who has kept power for over a decade by bouncing between president and prime minister.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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