Home >politics >policy >Why India should worry about Xi Jinping’s continuation as China President

New Delhi: China’s parliament on Sunday ratified a historic constitutional amendment abolishing the two-term limit for President Xi Jinping, paving the way for his stay in the office of president—perhaps for life.

News reports from Beijing said Xi, 64, was set to begin his second five-year term as president of China this month. He is seen as the most powerful Chinese leader in recent decades, heading the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and the military.

The amendment removing term limits for the president and the vice-president was approved by the National People’s Congress in Beijing. It has effectively ended the collective leadership system followed by the CPC to avert a dictatorship emerging in an otherwise one-party state.

Interestingly, the development comes at a time when India is seemingly making efforts to stabilize its ties with China—rocked last year by the Dokalam standoff and other issues previously. Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale has reportedly written a letter advising Indian leaders and officials to stay away from functions being organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s flight to India, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet in 1959.

India’s concerns: A limitless tenure for Xi has spawned concerns across the world. For India, Xi’s continuation in office beyond a decade is particularly worrisome, say analysts.

For starters, India-China ties have not been on an even keel with Beijing since Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang came to power replacing Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, respectively, in 2013, though both made early visits to India.

One of the key things to watch for is whether Xi will retain the mantles of Communist Party general secretary and head of the powerful Central Military Commission that controls the People Liberation Army beyond 2023. “Presidents and vice presidents are titular heads in China. The real power rests in the hands of the general secretary and or the chairman of the Central Military Commission," said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University.

According to former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, “Xi has said that by 2035, he intends to make China a first rate military power capable of winning wars. He has also said that by 2049, he wants to see China at the centre stage of international relations." This could mean “pressure on India—in its periphery, in the region and beyond", he said.

Border issues: India and China fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962 that went badly for India. The two now share an unsettled border. Last year, the armies of the two countries faced off in Dokalam, in Bhutan for 73 days—seen as a consequence of their common boundary being un-demarcated. Twenty rounds of talks since 2003 by special representatives of both sides have not yielded any breakthroughs so far on the subject. With a stronger Xi in power, analysts say there would be less chances of a China giving India any concessions on the boundary dispute.

Masood Azhar and NSG membership: Among the irritants in the India-China relationship has been China’s opposition to getting Pakistan-based terrorist Maulana Masood Azhar listed as a terrorist by the UN.

China has also blocked India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group—that controls global nuclear commerce—despite appeals from the highest levels of power in India. There have also been numerous border incursions in the past four-five years. One happened as Xi was visiting India in September 2014.

These kind of moves against Indian interests are unlikely to be reined in or tempered in the future, say analysts.

Belt and Road Initiative: Xi is also likely to press on full steam ahead with his flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that India is opposed to, given that one strand of it—the China Pakistan Economic Corridor runs through disputed Kashmir. That would mean greater Chinese inroads into countries like Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar—all along India’s periphery—something New Delhi is already wary about. With India and Japan looking at an alternative to the BRI through the Asia Africa Growth Corridor, Xi could solidify ties with Pakistan to a greater extent than at present—that could worry India more.

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