Communist Party Of China’s Move To Give Xi A Longer Tenure Is No Music to India’s EarsChinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. (WANG ZHAO/AFP/GettyImages)

India has a tough foreign policy problem on hand with the Communist Party of China moving in to give President Xi Jinping a longer term, which according to former Australian premier Kevin Rudd could see the powerful Chinese leader “remain in power throughout the 2030s”.

China’s official news agency Xinhua reported today (25 February) that the party’s decision-making Central Committee proposed removing words from the document that says the head of state “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms”. The provision is the only formal barrier keeping Xi, who also serves as party leader and commander-in-chief of the military, from being in power past 2023.

This will have India focusing harder on its foreign policy since New Delhi and Beijing have been at loggerheads over their approach to Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Both nations have had significant differences over China’s trade corridor through Pakistan called China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China’s objective is to get easier access to markets in West Asia, Africa and Europe, utilising the Gwadar Port in Pakistan.

Beijing has assiduously tried to promote its CPEC project through the One Belt One Road initiative, roping in Bangladesh and Mongolia.

India, on the other hand, is helping Iran with Chabbar Port and in return, getting food and other key supplies to Afghanistan from its shores. New Delhi has also refused to help China with the CPEC project, saying it has objections to the corridor running through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Rudd’s was the first global reaction to the move to give Xi a longer tenure in power, something that catapults him to the status of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The former Australian prime minister tweeted: “This is a major new development in Chinese politics. I have long argued that Xi would be China's most powerful leader since Mao”.

Speculation that Xi, 64, might seek to stay intensified since he declined to name a successor at the twice-a-decade leadership reshuffle that was held in October 2016.

However, the formal move to amend the constitution caught everyone by surprise as it was a break from the earlier practices of establishing stability after the end of Mao’s reign saw a political upheaval.

The Chinese Communist Party’s move will also allow XI to retain the three posts – country’s presidentship, party leadership and head of the army – and obviate any need to share power with anyone else.

“This move is also not without risk for Xi,” said Fraser Howie, author of Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundations of China’s Extraordinary Rise to Bloomberg. “When things go wrong – and they always do – there is only one person to blame,” he was quoted as saying.

The Xinhua report comes a week before China’s parliament meets. Known as the National People’s Congress, Chinese Parliament meets with an agenda that includes confirming Xi’s second term and approving a series of constitutional changes recommended by the Central Committee. The latest move that was reported on Sunday was not among the amendments announced after the committee’s last meeting in January, the wire agency said.

Chris Buckley, New York Times reporter in China, tweeted that the Xinhua report, coming on a Sunday, was odd since the Central Committee was set for a three-day meeting, staring Monday (25 February). The meeting could see Xi assert himself by appointing his trusted lieutenants to key bodies like the central bank.

India also has trade issues with China with the balance of payments skewed in favour of Beijing. New Delhi strongly feels that its import of Chinese products is funding the Chinese manufacturing sector. In an effort to curb Chinese imports, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has proposed an increase in customs duty in some of the key products being imported from China.

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