Beijing – China’s government pledged Monday to deliver robust growth, pursue advanced technology and boost military spending while urging the public to embrace President Xi Jinping’s rule as its ceremonial legislature prepared for changes to allow Xi to stay in power indefinitely.

The plan to end constitutional limits on Xi’s term as president has overshadowed the meeting of the National People’s Congress, which usually is used to showcase economic initiatives and plans for social programs and other government work.

In a nearly two-hour speech to the legislature, Premier Li Keqiang did not mention the scrapping of term limits but emphasized the primacy of Xi and the ruling Communist Party he leads in all aspects of Chinese life.

“Resolutely safeguard General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core status and the authority of the party’s central committee and its centralized and unified leadership,” Li said in a speech to nearly 3,000 delegates to the ceremonial legislature in the Great Hall of the People.

The slide toward one-man rule under Xi, already China’s most dominant figure of recent decades, has fueled concern that Beijing is eroding efforts to guard against the excesses of autocratic leadership and make economic regulation more stable and predictable.

The president’s office has few powers, but Xi’s posts as ruling party general secretary and chairman of the commission that controls the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, already have no term limit. By tradition since the early 1990s, one person has held all three posts at the same time.

“If it gets approved, you can describe his attempt to abolish term limits as really to make China medieval again, not to make China great again,” said Warren Sun, a historian of the Chinese Communist Party at Australia’s Monash University.

The 64-year-old Xi has appointed himself to head bodies that oversee national security, finance, economic reform and other functions, effectively sidelining Li, the party’s No. 2 figure.

Chinese officials have defended the end of Xi’s term limits as necessary to ensure continuity as Beijing undertakes a sprawling long-range agenda aimed at making state industry competitive and productive, developing profitable high-tech industry, reducing poverty and cleaning up China’s battered environment.

In line with this agenda, Li set this year’s growth target at around 6.5 percent, which would be among the world’s strongest if achieved.

It comes amid a marathon campaign to nurture self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment and to rein in surging debt that prompted ratings agencies to cut Beijing’s government credit rating last year.


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