The Dynamics and Consequences of Power Centralisation in China
On 11 March 2018, China officially abolished the term limit for the roles of president and vice-president, paving the way for current President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely. This constitutional amendment represents a significant departure from the political reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping beginning in the late-1970s after the period of Maoist rule. The recent amendment is a significant rollback to strongman politics and therefore is bound to have significant implications. In terms of domestic politics, it will have implications for the Communist Party of China's (CPC) long-term stability, as Xi has dismantled a system that had so far ensured an orderly succession of leadership at the top level, thereby creating a potential danger of destabilising power struggles in the future. His personalisation of the collective leadership and dismantling of consensus rule undermines the basic foundation of elite unity and cooperation which ensured stable transitions of power in the past two decades. The process of 'partyfication' of the state and society puts greater pressure on China’s civil society, which has already been affected by Xi’s intolerant policies and is likely to experience more stringent measures of control and repression boosted by the application of sophisticated technologies such as big data, digital surveillance, and artificial intelligence (AI). Ideals such as multiparty democracy, human rights, and rule of law are destined to face continued rejection as Western values. Despite Xi’s plan to make governance more efficient, his over-consolidation of power and cult of personality will stand in the way of transparent and effective governance if low-level authorities do not dare to report objectively to higher authorities. Though Xi has ensured himself an effective chairmanship in relation to almost all critical state functions, still, it is impossible for him to oversee all policies and their execution. This may lead to what is known as the 'dictator’s dilemma', where subordinates tell their superior what they want to hear, resulting in policies falling short of targets or being counterproductive due to lack of objective feedback. This was the case during the famine that was a result of the Great Leap Forward campaign, when local authorities uncritically and overly extolled the achievement of a completely failed policy.
We welcome your feedback, and should you have questions for specific authors, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.