What I’m reading this weekend: At the end of February, the Chinese Community Party abolished the two-term limit for the presidency, effectively allowing President Xi Jinping to lead China in perpetuity. It always seemed to me (read: my untrained eye) that autocrats took incremental, almost unnoticeable actions to amass power, as to not raise any alarms and to sustain the pretense that they rule at the will of their people. China’s monumental decision to amend their constitution may be another sign that today’s autocrats are feeling more emboldened, and Xi joins the list of authoritarian strongmen taking bold moves— tangible and symbolic—to grab and sustain their power. Why does this matter? For a number of reasons, but here’s one: at the end of the seesaw sits human rights and civil liberties. I recall a conversation with a group of activists shortly after Trump’s election, who predicted that internal discord within the United States would pull attention and resources from issues abroad and create a vacuum for bad political behavior*. As a result, it could meaningfully unwind the work that activists around the world had done to fight inequality, and curtail social and political repression. And so it goes.
I have been following the tensions in the South China Sea, with a particular interest in how Vietnam is navigating these dynamics, and looked to understand how Xi Jinping’s unyielding power would affect the region (and beyond). If you’re interested, here’s a hodgepodge of content that I came across this week, providing both good context and commentary:
- China discards model of fixed-term presidency (FT Podcast)
- President Xi Jinping’s Rise in China (New York Times)
- Europe Once Saw Xi Jinping as a Hedge Against Trump (New York Times)
- Xi Jinping decides to abolish presidential term limits (The Economist)
- Xi Jinping and the Perils of One-Person Rule in China (New Yorker)
- Globalization Has Created a Chinese Monster (Foreign Policy)
- A Counterproductive Cold War With China (Foreign Affairs)
- Life in China’s Asia – What Regional Hegemony Would Look Like (Foreign Affairs)
* This is not to say that the U.S. doesn’t act badly, but that’s another conversation for another day.