Australia watches China leadership shakeup

Pat Griffiths
(Australian Associated Press)

Australia will not weigh in on China’s proposed changes to its constitution that would allow its president Xi Jinping to remain in power beyond two consecutive four-year terms.

China’s official news agency Xinhua revealed on Sunday a Chinese leadership proposal to remove the line stating 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.

“President Xi is a very effective leader of China,” foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“But the details of its constitution and any changes to the constitution are a matter for China.”

Widely regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, the constitutional change could allow President Xi to serve in that capacity indefinitely.

Xinhua attributes the proposal for constitutional change to the 205-member China Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

It would allow the 64-year-old President Xi to remain both head of state and Communist Party General Secretary beyond 2023.

“We have a very strong relationship with China. We have a comprehensive strategic partnership with China,” Ms Bishop said.

“China is our largest two-way trading partner and what happens in China affects the rest of the world. It’s a regional and global power and we welcome its economic rise.”

But Professor John Blaxland from the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre in Canberra said the development had “ominous overtones”.

“(Xi’s) confirmation as unchallenged President likely will see China become increasingly assertive in the pursuit of what he sees as China’s national interests,” he told AAP.

Those included initiatives such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Prof Blaxland said managing expectations will be difficult as China consolidates its economic growth while facing a growing appetite for political and social freedoms to match the new levels of prosperity.

President Xi had articulated a roadmap to consolidate the centrality of China’s economic success for the prosperity of much of the rest of the world.

“On one level that seems fine,” Prof Blaxland said.

“But on another level, as China’s resurgence runs into contested claims and competing interests, Xi’s consolidation of power portends a more confident and assertive approach to foreign engagement.”


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