China on Track For 'Return to Mao Era' of Ideological Controls: Analysts

2018-03-08
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Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the opening session of the National People's Congress, China's ceremonial legislature, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2018.
Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the opening session of the National People's Congress, China's ceremonial legislature, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2018.
AFP

As China's highest-ranking leaders got behind plans to allow an indefinite term in office for President Xi Jinping this week, analysts slammed the move as a historical "regression" to the politics of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

A draft amendment to China's constitution that will likely be passed by the rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) in the next few days will remove a two-term limit from the offices of president and vice president, paving the way for indefinite rule by Xi.

Xi has told a recent meeting that he agrees with the proposed amendments, which were made "with an eye on the big picture," state media reported.

The move is a "major step" forward for the rule of law and modernization, Xinhua news agency quoted the president as saying.

Former China Youth Daily editor Li Datong, who posted and forwarded an open letter opposing the move on the social media platform WeChat, said it was a regressive step, however.

"This is a retrograde step; we are now moving backwards," Li said. "Don't people care how this guy turns out?"

Li said the predictability of the two-term system had at least offered political stability since late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping brought in the measure with the country's brand-new constitution in 1982.

"He's not going to hand power over to anyone else as long as he's still alive," Li said. "Of course he's going to agree with these amendments. It would only be news if he didn't agree with them."

Li said the move is a sign of Xi's deep fear of being undermined by a political rival.

"Nobody with any self-confidence would behave like this," he said. "I told them a while back that they'd become a global laughing stock, and that people would feel quite alarmed at the direction our country is going in."

'Somewhat sickening' to watch

Contemporary Chinese historian Feng Chongyi of the University of Technology in Sydney said Xi had managed to get himself to this point using "autocratic tricks."

"This is an old trick, to persuade people further down the ranks that they should express their loyalty to you," Feng said. "All autocratic regimes behave in this way."

Feng said Xi's self-promotion was "somewhat sickening" to watch.

"Xi Jinping has become his own champion, which is a pretty low-down trick," he said. "The problem is that all those mediocre bureaucrats rely on the whole party machinery for their bread and butter."

"There is no way that they are going to have the guts to stand up to Xi Jinping," he said. "What's crucial here is that they have already suppressed any opposing voices, online and in the media."

The parallels with late supreme leader Mao Zedong were once more highlighted when immigration authorities in Macau, which returned to Chinese rule in 1999, refused entry to a prominent dissident author who penned an explosive biography of the late Chairman.

Organizers of the Macau Literary Festival said they had been "unofficially" warned that "Wild Swans" author Jung Chang, who has also written about Mao, wouldn't be admitted to the city to speak at the festival.

Investigative journalist Suki Kim, who went undercover to write a bestselling book about life in North Korea, and a former intelligence officer writing North Korea-themed detective stories under the pen-name James Church would also be refused entry, they said.

The city, whose partially elected local government is loyal to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has previously denied entry to pro-democracy activists and some Hong Kong journalists.

'Damaged, murky' Macau

Writers' group Hong Kong PEN hit out at the move as "deplorable."

"We urge the Macau administration not to use access to their city as a covert tool of political control in determining what kind of books are deemed acceptable," the group said.

In Macau, pro-democracy lawmaker Sulu Sou said the move was unacceptable.

"The authorities have a responsibility to find out what happened and to make a full public account of what actually happened here," Sou told RFA.

"Macau has always had a damaged, murky sort of image," he said. "All we can do is guess which department decided this was a problem. The real reason is hard to tell, but they are using security as an excuse to cloak their actions."

Zhang Weiguo, U.S.-based editor of Hong Kong online magazine The Trend, said China looks set to return to Mao-era levels of political and ideological controls.

"Ever since Xi Jinping came to power, he has sought to direct ideology across the board," Zhang said. "This is basically a restoration [of an imperial-style system], a return to the Mao era."

"He uses Mao's methods to shore up his own power: he wants to become a second Mao Zedong," he said. "Of course authors like these are going to be on their blacklist."

Reported by Ng Yik-tung, Sing Man and Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lin Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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