To absolutely nobody's surprise, China's National People's Congress overwhelmingly approved numerous amendments to the country's Constitution on March 10, eliminating presidential term limits and strengthening the role of the Communist Party of China—and especially that of President Xi Jinping. The largely symbolic parliament voted 2,958 out of 2,963 in favor of the amendment to Article 79 of the constitution, allowing Xi to remain in power indefinitely. The constitution was also amended to officially recognize the new political philosophy of "Xi Jinping Thought." (Jurist) All these changes were of course already promulgated by the CPC Central Commmittee, and approval by the NPC is a mere formality. Xi is now enshrined as the new "paramount leader"—really, China's first since Deng Xiaoping.
China Law & Policy finds that an old-style personalistic dictatorship is being established, as opposed to the bureaucratic party-dictatorship that followed Deng:
Added to China's 1982 Constitution, the term limit provision limits the president and vice-president to two, five-year terms. It was put in place in response to the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and the one-man leadership of Mao Zedong, with its goal to ensure the peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another and eliminate the consolidation of power in one man. But it's repudiation all but guarantees that current President Xi Jinping will continue on as China's leader well past 2023, when his second term was to end. It also signifies that, with the rapid purging of rivals through his anti-corruption campaign, all power now resides with Xi. Gone is China's governing model of a collective Party approach, an approach where Xi would merely be the first among equals, an approach that has ruled China for the last 35 years.
But the inevitable invocation of Mao in this context is misleading—as evidenced by the sanguine attitude of self-proclaimed "capitalist tool" Forbes magazine:
In the near-term, nothing has happened because Xi Jinping was a shoo-in for a second five-year term anyway. That second term began this weekend. The government scrapped term-limits, meaning he can run again in 2023… The country has had a two five-year term policy since the 1990s.
Xi Forever is not Castro's Cuba.
There is an unstoppable culture of capitalism and entrepreneurship in China. Private tech companies have driven much of the new wealth in China. Tencent has over 43,000 well paid, well-educated employees with a net profit margin of 27% as of the third quarter last year. Alibaba has around 50,000 employees today and growing globally.
Billionaire tech founders Jack Ma and Robin Li are revered by the government for what they've accomplished. Warren Buffet and hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio are like rock stars in China, a country full of retail investors who like putting money to work in the stock market as much as they like gambling in Macao and Las Vegas. Mainland equity markets are being institutionalized. The MSCI A Shares inclusion in the massive MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a recognition of that progress. China is still the largest closed-door economy in the world, but it is opening up at its own pace and many US investment banks will reap the benefits of that as China lowers the entry barriers for foreign banks in the mainland.
Right. "Xi Forever is not Castro's Cuba"—not because there is any greater political freedom in the People's Republic, but because there is greater "freedom" for foreign capital.
All too tellingly, China Labour Bulletin notes that as part of the same restructuring now being rubber-stamped by the NPC is the likely disbanding of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS)—China's equivalent of OSHA. Ostensibly, its functions are to be merged into a new Emergency Management Department. But the very names indicate a downgrading of the former's mission, and its subsumation under a body more concerned with national security.
Also a part of the restructuring are constitutional amendments tightening the criminal code and creating "supervisory commissions" to oversee government employees. (Jurist) These are part of Xi's vaunted anti-corruption campaign—but this may be seen as a capitalist purge, in which Xi is eliminating rivals in the state-party apparatus (today linked to control over "state-owned enterprises," and ability to reap lucre), in order to consolidate a personal dictatorship.
So here have what has been called "neoliberalism" in the West under a system that is completely illiberal where political freedoms and pluralism are concerned.
As Chinese Human Rights Defenders states in an analysis of Xi's economic agenda (which is essentially unchaged from that of his post-Mao predecessors): "In the past few decades, this 'China model' has left behind countless people in China, victimized by breakneck growth at the expense of basic protection from discrimination, exploitation, and abuse of power."
This is the context in which we must view Xi's repression of labor and displaced workers and human rights defenders, as well as peasants mobilizing to defend their farms from land-grabbing, and restive minority ethnicities such as Uighurs, Tibetans and Mongols (lest they provide an example to the Han masses). This context also reveals Xi's revival of Maoist nomenclature—such as the CPC's new "Mass Line Campaign"—as Orwellian in the extreme.
This is not Maoism. Whatever Mao actually represented—even if his regime was actually state-capitalist, as the anarchists and unorthodox Marxists would have it—it is safe to say that his totalitarian methods were, at least in intent, aimed at building socialism. Since Deng, totalitarian methods have been aimed at advancing an ever-more savage capitalism. As we've stated, Deng's Tiananmen Square massacre can be seen as a demonstration to foreign capital of willingess to use deadly repression for a stable investment climate, in the style of Chile's Pinochet. With his more aggressive foreign military posture, Xi is preparing to challenge the West rather than to woo it. But he is equally capitalist. The New Cold War between the US and China is unburdened of the ideological baggage of the first Cold War. It is a plain old rivalry between capitalist Great Powers.