A constitution is a set of core guidelines which provide a framework upon which a country runs itself. The U.S. Constitution, for example, includes things like how the government is structured, how politicians come to power, as well as set of ten amendments which guarantee individual liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, etc … It’s a document that may as well be carved in stone for how difficult it is to add or make changes to it. The Chinese constitution, on the other hand, is a little more free-flowing and open to adaptions, seeming to be more about governing the current times than hardwiring the future.
However, this work in progress just received two new amendments yesterday as the 19th CPC National Congress entered its closing session that could have longer-term implications.
One amendment was the enshrining of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” which is, as far as I can tell, a philosophical guide to action for the CPC. This is somewhat similar to what Jiang Zemin did by including his “Three Represents” and Hu Jintao did by adding his “Scientific Outlook on Development” into the constitution, but neither were so brash as to include their names with their hallmark contributions. While this inclusion of “Xi Jinping Thought” is more than a little Mao-like, everybody saw this coming.
But what we didn’t see coming was the addition of a slightly more curious additional amendment that will see the following statement written into China’s constitution: “following the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, and pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative.”
Basically, Xi Jinping Thought and what could be called Xi Jinping action have both been etched into China’s premier governing charter, further implanting President Xi Jinping — the public architect of the Belt and Road (BRI) — deeper into the wheelworks of the Chinese future.
From the start, it was evident that Xi Jinping wouldn’t be an ordinary Chinese president — as much as the word ordinary can really be used here, as China’s presidential tradition is still very young and often governed by short-term informal precedents rather than official protocols. When Xi took control there were immediate comparisons to Mao, and speculation has always been rife about how he might not be so willing to step down when the unwritten ten year limit comes to a close. While it has always been my impression that this position is little more than analysts grasping for something to talk about than anything deliverable by facts, with yesterday’s constitutional amendments I have lost a little confidence in my argument.
The Belt and Road Initiative — a loosely defined series of interconnected bi-lateral trade deals and infrastructure projects that seek to establish enhanced trade routes from China to Europe and Africa — is a program that is inseparably connected with Xi Jinping, which could turn out to be on a similar level as the Great Leap Forward is connected with Mao and Reform and Opening with Deng Xiaoping. The writing of this initiative into the constitution could very well be used as a driver to extend Xi’s leadership a little farther into the future. I mean, how can China continue on with the BRI without the only person who really knows what it is?
Jests and speculation aside, the constitutional inclusion of the Belt and Road by name is a major step towards solidify the initiative as a core plan of action that is to be carried out long into the future and, perhaps, further draws the lines of who is responsible for carrying it out