Kevin Rudd: Xi Jinping may Hold Power Through 2020s

Chinese President Xi Jinping votes at the closing of the 19th Communist Party Congress

Chinese President Xi Jinping votes at the closing of the 19th Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People on October 24, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

This past Sunday, China’s communist party leadership announced that it plans to remove the two-term limit on China’s president and vice president. Such a move would pave the way for Chinese President Xi Jinping to remain in power for the indefinite future. Following the announcement, ASPI President Kevin Rudd spoke to several media outlets about the implications of the move.

In an interview with "Bloomberg Markets: Balance of Power" on February 27, Rudd said that though the term-limit change was not a surprise to veteran China watchers, it was critical nevertheless. "It's now become clear, he's probably China's most powerful leader since Mao... This entrenches it formally. It's a big step. It's big news within China itself." (1 min., 57. sec.)

Rudd also discussed the significance of the proposal on CNN International on February 26. According to Rudd, removing terms limits for Xi Jinping, is “a very significant event in Chinese domestic politics, consolidating further Xi Jinping’s grasp on power. He will be running the show through the 2020s; that’s a long time.” Rudd believes the move may be “controversial within the ranks of the Chinese leadership because this breaks a consensus position held over a period of time.” In 1982, China amended its constitution to prevent a leader for life. (3 min., 20 sec.)

In a separate interview with BBC Radio 4 on February 26, Rudd explains that the term-limit change “could never have happened unless [Xi] got the overwhelming consensus of the Party center behind him.” The fact that he was able to gain such a consensus suggests that “Xi Jinping has consolidated his power already since the 19th Party Congress and arguably since the 18th Party Congress.”

This means, that “we are going to have a very strong Chinese leader leading the country (…) through the 2020s when China’s economy will surpass the United States in absolute size, and where China’s blueprint for its own power in the region and in the world will continue to be laid out.” In Rudd’s view, it is noteworthy that we “are going to have a non-Western, non-English speaking, non-democratic state as the world’s largest economy.” "Anyone who thinks in the collective West that no changes will happen as a result to the current liberal international system, I think is dreaming,” Rudd states. (4 min., 19 sec.)

In a similar conversation on February 26 with Fox Business' Neil Cavuto, Rudd explained the lack of reaction from markets to the news of China’s term-limit change. Rudd explains that markets did not react negatively to the scrapping of Xi’s term limits, because they are interested in the direction of China’s economy “not just for the next five years… but arguably, for the next fifteen years”. Given that Xi may now be in power until the end of the 2020s, Rudd believes that what markets are simply saying is that as far as who they’d rather have running the economy, “better the devil we know.” (6 min., 59 sec.) 

Related Content