Xi Jinping wins unprecedented third term in office

Student, professor talk China’s political landscape

After 10 years in office, Chinese President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term in office. According to Reuters, the Chinese Communist Party ended its weeklong congress on Oct. 22, making a number of controversial appointments — Xi’s among them. Famous for stopping corruption, limiting free speech and isolating China from the rest of the world, many wonder what Xi has in plan for his third term and how far reaching the impacts will be.
“Because some of my family are a part of the Communist Party, they are not allowed to travel to the United States,” said a Chinese student who requested to remain anonymous due to political reasons. “For me personally, if I say something against the Communist Party it might leave a record.”
The student said that Xi’s controlling policies, especially his “Zero-COVID” policy — which mandated quarantines of any COVID cases within the country — complicated life for foreign students, as it made traveling to China very difficult and left many students stuck at their institutions over break. The student explained that they have been in the United States for the past two years.
“A single air ticket could cost approximately $12,000,” the student said. “It is really expensive and it can also be very risky because sometimes they cancel your flight and won’t pay you back.”
While their family believes that it is best for them to stay in the United States during breaks, the student is concerned about what they are missing by staying here. They explained how last year, they lost one of their grandmothers, and their other grandmother is developing Alzheimer’s.
“She was the person who brought me up so we share a very deep emotional relationship,” the student said. “It would be really really bad if I go back to China and she doesn’t remember me anymore.”
Although the “Zero-COVID” policy is unpopular, nobody challenged Xi in his bid for a third term.
“There is such strict control over expression and organizing that (opposition to Xi) just doesn’t seem possible to me,” said Professor and Arthur E. Braun Chair in Political Science Sharon Wesoky.
Wesoky is pessimistic about what the future might bring with Xi’s continued leadership. She explained that China is already closing up more by refusing to share its gross domestic product data and expects “continued repression of dissent” and “ethnic assimilation.”
“China does not have rule of law like we do, in any stretch of the imagination,” Wesoky said. “So there’s nothing to constrain Xi from doing this.”
She explained that digital surveillance in China makes protesting extremely difficult.
“People have been air-dropping oppositional posters to each other,” Wesoky said. “Airdrop on iPhones is one of the few ways you can anonymously send things to people in China. But that is so sporadic.”
Without opposition, Xi appears set to continue ruling until his death. Both Wesoky and the student said it was likely that Xi could become the next Mao Zedong, who ruled China for about 30 years and is regarded as a hero for bringing communism to the country.
“He would like to be in power until he dies, like Mao did,” Wesoky said. “At this point it’s hard to imagine him voluntarily stepping down for a replacement.”
The student critiqued Xi’s monopoly on power. They were shocked and angered when they heard about Xi changing the constitution, as the student learned that “the constitution of a country should be the foundation of the country, and should remain unless something serious happens.”
“If you don’t have opponents or someone to restrain your power, then other people’s advice wouldn’t affect you that much and then things go wrong,” the student said.
Despite being unprecedented in China, this power grab is likely part of a larger trend of leaders overstepping institutional boundaries to establish more control, Wesoky said. It is similar to Vladmir Putin’s extended presidency, also achieved through constitutional amendments, and Donald Trump’s attempt to deny election results in order to stay in office.
As for the United States, Wesoky pointed out that “democratic backsliding,” a phenomenon that describes countries experiencing a decline in democratic policies, is likely to blame.
“We are also on the precipice of that in this country,” Wesoky said.
As for China, Wesoky indicated that it is important to remember that differences in types of government are important factors informing how leaders act, and that China is not a democracy.
“In the 80s and early 90s there was some thought that China would evolve to become more open and more democratic,” Wesoky said. “Tiananmen Square, 1989, showed that the Party never intended for China to evolve into a democracy.”
Despite his unpopular ways of attaining power, Xi is well respected by some Chinese citizens.
“My family and parents think he did a very great job at stopping corruption,” he said. “I think Xi is more progressive than former Chinese leaders.”
Wesoky disagreed, as she explained how Xi has locked down China even more than previous leaders.
“There had been elements of more openness in Chinese society when (Hu Jintao) was in charge,” Wesoky said. “That, Xi Jingping has pretty steadily closed down.”
The student backed up Wesoky’s claim, as they explained how restrictive China under Xi can be. Professors used to travel to teach and learn in other countries, they said.
“After Xi took his term, these kind of things are forbidden,” they said.
Similarly, they said that learning opportunities are also very limited in China as compared to the United States.
“Learning in the U.S., I have more choice and can decide what to study in my own life,” they said. “We don’t offer creative writing courses in China because they don’t want writers.”
As for future policies in China, both professor and student agreed that it was unlikely to see Xi change his ways.
“I don’t think that he is going to change his policies or any of his fundamental ideas about making China a stronger country,” the student said. “He doesn’t take the position because of his bloodline. He only takes the position because of his political ideas. If he is going to change his political ideas, he will lose power.”