How Xi Jinping's latest moves will affect China and the world

Xi Jinping's push for no term limits is just the latest move in his quest to overturn the previous model of Chinese governance

On Sunday, Mr Xi Jinping successfully pushed for a removal of the formal term limits on the presidency of China.

With that, the 64-year-old Xi has done two major things.

Obviously, he has set himself up to continue ruling for the rest of his life.

But more importantly, he has also fractured the final remnants of the post-Mao Zedong Communist Party leadership consensus forged in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In so doing, Mr Xi has overturned what remains of global models and understanding of the incentives and functioning of Chinese politics, transformed China into something more dictatorial and opened up a new and potentially dangerous fissure in Chinese elite politics.

The implications are enormous.

The economic, social and human disasters of the Mao years left the leadership of the party wary of the concentration of too much power in the hands of one person for too long.

Since Mr Xi's appointment as vice-chairman in 2008, and especially after his accession to the chairmanship and presidency in 2012, Mr Xi has given every indication of an interest in overturning this model.

Upon becoming president, Mr Xi altered the composition of the Politburo Standing Committee or PSC, shrinking it from nine to seven, and broke with norms favouring balance on the committee to be instead strongly in favour of his clique.

In October, he managed to have his name and ideas added to the party constitution and to be named the "Core" of the party, a title closer to something for Mao than anyone since.

Eliminating term limits for the presidency simply continues the trend.

Analysis of Chinese politics will become even trickier now.

Much like the Kremlinology of the Soviet years, "Pekingology" has relied on secondhand and indirect information filtered through a set of ideas and assumptions of the way Chinese elite politics functioned.

But by terminating this set of rules at the highest levels, Mr Xi has sent a message that anyone elevated by that system may no longer be protected by it. Alliances and patronage may be rewritten , and for reasons hard to discern from the outside.

This also means the political direction taken by China could tend towards more extreme actions overall, which is often a factor of highly personalist rule.

Despite China's cultivated outward monolithic political appearance and Mr Xi's popularity among many, there remain significant pockets of dissatisfaction with his policy direction within the party.

These groups have little chance of organising any kind of resistance at the moment, but new rules might allow reorganisations, purges, or crackdowns that even in the recent past might have seemed off the table.

One caveat to this change is to remember that Mr Xi occupies several positions in the hierarchy, and that the change in presidential term limits affects only his position in the government, not his position as chairman of the party, which is the ultimate source of political power.

Whatever the case, the accumulated effect of these changes has guaranteed that as long as Mr Xi is alive and the party is in power, he will be in charge of the country.China is back, and it has got an emperor again. - REUTERS

The writer is the founder and policy director of The Metropolitan Society for International Affairs.