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Forever My Darling
Xi Digging In for the Long Haul?

Last week, we wondered whether Chinese President Xi Jinping might be following in the steps of Vladimir Putin in securing his place in office past the upcoming second term. The speculation then centered around a New York Times article noting how his not having designated a successor is spurring rumors around Beijing.

This week, the Financial Times adds more grist to the mill:

For more than a decade, a tacit understanding among China’s top rulers has ensured the ruling Communist party does not become a gerontocracy. That understanding, known as qishang baxia or “seven-up, eight-down”, dictates that only leaders 67 or younger can ascend to or remain in top posts, while those 68 or older must retire when the party changes guard every five years.

But as China prepares to enter a “selection year” under the leadership of a very unconventional president, Xi Jinping, there is increasing speculation he may try to dispense with the retirement convention entirely.

If so, it will be the biggest test yet of his authority over the party and further distinguish him from his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, who took a “first among equals” approach during their presidencies.

“To waive the rule is going to be difficult because it would establish [Xi] as significantly more than first among equals,” says Steve Tsang, a sinologist at Nottingham university.

It would also be the strongest signal to date that Mr Xi could ignore a similar unwritten rule on term limits that would require him to step down from his current position as party leader in 2022.

While economists will be closely watching the upcoming Congress for hints as to how the Party might choose to begin to address the growing (some might say insurmountable) structural challenges the country is facing, perhaps the bigger drama will end up being to what extent Xi’s early signaling will mean he’s sticking around. Judging by the fact that two Western papers are carrying similar stories a week apart, it must be a hot topic among Beijing’s chattering classes.

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