China’s Communist Party has announced plans to change the constitution to end the two-term limit for its leader, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to remain in power for the rest of his life.
The move is the culmination of years of effort on Xi’s part to consolidate power in his own hands, signaling a return to strongman rule aimed at restoring China to what he sees as its rightful place as a global power.
The proposed change to the State Constitution, scrapping the 10-year limit (two five-year terms) for the president and vice president, was approved at a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in January, but details were only made public on Sunday.
The possibility of Xi ruling for life led to the share price of companies with the word emperor in their name to surge Monday on China’s stock market.
The proposals are still just that, but they will be enshrined in the constitution when they are ratified by the National People's Congress, which will convene next week.
“The Communist Party of China Central Committee proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People's Republic of China "shall serve no more than two consecutive terms" from the country's Constitution,” the text released by the party says, according to a translation by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Xi is seen as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and has been working for years to move away from the consensus-driven style of leadership espoused by his predecessors.
As well as pressing the country’s claims in the South China Sea, Xi has launched the ambitious global infrastructure plan called the Belt and Road Initiative. China is also investing heavily in its military, space exploration and cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
With a compliant state-run media bolstering his own high opinion of himself, Xi was declared “core leader” early in his first term in office, and most recently he was elevated even further when his name and writings were enshrined into his party’s constitution.
“In this new Xi Era, the world must learn to deal with the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, while China itself is now the strongest it has been in centuries, with plans to become even more economically, militarily, and culturally powerful, on the road to its Great Rejuvenation,” China watcher Bill Bishop said Sunday in his Sinocism newsletter.
As the U.S. chases an isolationist policy under Donald Trump, China is increasingly seeking to exert its influence over global issues ranging from the crisis on the Korean Peninsula to climate change.
Despite a relatively successful trip to Beijing in November by Trump, tensions remain between China and the U.S., particularly when it comes to trade. According to a source speaking to Axios, the White House is preparing to “impose tariffs on a ‘shit ton’ of Chinese products” as retaliation for China stealing U.S. intellectual property.
Liu He, a Harvard-trained economist and Xi’s closest confidant on economic matters, will travel to Washington this week to try to defuse the potential trade war. Liu is also reported to be named next week as the new governor of the People’s Bank of China.
Cover image: Chinese President Xi Jinping waits for British Prime Minister Theresa May (not pictured) ahead of a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. (Wu Hong/Pool Photo via AP)
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.