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China launches propaganda push for Xi after social media criticism

Social media criticism of proposal to extend President Xi's term indefinitely sparks government reaction

BEIJING China's plan for President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely has sparked social media opposition, drawing comparisons to North Korea's ruling dynasty.

The social media reaction late on Sunday quickly saw China swing into a concerted propaganda push yesterday, blocking some articles and publishing pieces praising the party.

The ruling Communist Party on Sunday proposed to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office, meaning Mr Xi, who heads the party and the military, may never have to retire.

The proposal, which will be passed by delegates loyal to the party at next month's annual meeting of China's largely rubber stamp Parliament, is part of a package of amendments to the country's constitution.

It will also add Mr Xi's political thought to the constitution, already added to the party constitution last year, and set a legal framework for an anti-corruption superbody, as well as more broadly strengthen the party's tight grip on power.

But it seems the party will have its work cut out trying to convince some in China, where Mr Xi is popular thanks in part to his war on graft, that the move will not end up giving him too much power.

"Argh, we're going to become North Korea," wrote one Weibo user, where the Kim dynasty has ruled since the late 1940s.

Kim Il Sung founded North Korea in 1948, and his family has ruled it ever since.

Such comments were removed late on Sunday.

Widely read state-run newspaper the Global Times, in an editorial carried online late on Sunday and published yesterday, said the change did not mean the president will stay in office forever, though it did not offer much explanation.

"Since reform and opening up, China, led by the Communist Party, has successfully resolved and will continue to effectively resolve the issue of party and national leadership replacement in a law-abiding... manner," it said, referring to landmark economic reforms that started four decades ago.

The party's official People's Daily reprinted a long article by Xinhua news agency saying most people supported the constitutional amendments.

"The broad part of officials and the masses say they hoped this constitutional reform is passed," it said.

The WeChat account of the People's Daily, after initially posting a flurry of positive comments under its article, disabled the comments section late on Sunday. It was back again yesterday, complete with remarks lauding the party.

The overseas edition of the paper's WeChat removed an article focusing on the term limits, replacing it with the lengthy Xinhua report summing up all the amendment proposals.

In a confusing moment, Xinhua initially only reported the news in English.

REACTION IN HONG KONG

The decision has unsettled some in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, where the authorities have been trying to rein in a pro-democracy movement.

"This move, which would allow for a single individual to amass and accumulate political power, means that China would again have a dictator as her head of state - Xi Jinping," said Mr Joshua Wong, one of the movement's leaders.

"The law may exist in China in form, but this just proves that the Chinese law exists to serve the individual and the party's purposes." - REUTERS

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