As The Diplomat reported yesterday, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) proposal to scrap the two-term limit for the presidency, together with the vice presidency, written in the Chinese Constitution has triggered a tremendous wave of criticism at home and abroad.
Under pressure from public opinion, China’s foreign ministry made a rare move on February 26. Breaking its traditional rule of not commenting on domestic issues, ministry spokesperson Lu Kang directly defended the CCP’s decision in front of international media at a regular press conference.
According Voice of America’s video footage and a report in The Hindustan Times, Lu said that China’s constitution has been “continuously improved” since it was adopted in 1954 during the Mao era. He urged foreign reporters to regard the latest proposal from a “positive perspective” and understand it based on “the development of the socialism with Chinese characteristics under the new era.”
He also referred to certain points raised by overseas media — such as noting that the proposed amendment would pave the way for Chinese President Xi Jinping to remain in office for life — as “reckless speculation.”
“I hope everyone can acknowledge the voice of all the Chinese people,” Lu added.
However, none of Lu’s comments above were included in the official transcript of the press briefing — a usual move by the foreign ministry when information is deemed too “sensitive” for Chinese people to read about.
At least one of Xi’s counterparts refrained from criticizing the decision. In response to the CCP’s proposal to abolish presidential term limits, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on February 26 that “that’s a decision for China to make about what’s best for their country.”
Term limits, Sanders said, are something President Donald Trump “supports here in the United States, but that’s a decision that would be up to China.”
Though Lu defended the proposed amendments to international media, China’s government is even more vehement about forestalling criticism at home.
Weibo and WeChat, the two most important social media platforms for Chinese netizens, announced that from February 25 — the day the CCP released the proposal — to the end of March, users will not be allowed to change their profile picture, username, or personal signature. That’s one typical means of practicing online censorship, as any of those features can be used to express support or opposition to a cause.
In addition, numerous keywords have been included in Weibo’s “sensitive words database,” meaning that search results for these keywords are blocked. To name just a few, sensitive keywords include “shameless,” “I object,” “Xi Zedong (a combination of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong),” “long live my emperor,” “restoration,” and “1984.” According to China Digital Times, the list of “sensitive words” is constantly increasing.