SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
And now to China, where a proposal from the country's ruling party could have implications for years to come. Today, the Communist Party proposed scrapping term limits for presidents. That would mean China's leader Xi Jinping may not retire after the standard 10 years in power. Or he might not retire at all. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been following the story and joins us now. Hi, Anthony.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: So how long has China had term limits for its leaders, and why are they in place?
KUHN: Well, they haven't had the term limits for very long in the historical scheme of things. China's constitution has prescribed two five-year terms for president and vice president since 1982. And before that, Chinese leaders basically just ruled until they died - from, you know, centuries of emperors under imperial dynasties all the way up to China's late leader Deng Xiaoping, who ruled basically until his death in 1997. And so these limits are going to be taken out of the constitution. One thing to remember is that Xi Jinping is actually also head of the Communist Party and the military. And those two posts outrank the president, and they have no legal limits whatsoever.
MCCAMMON: And what signs, if any, have there been that this was coming?
KUHN: Yeah. It was kind of expected. Over the past five years, Xi Jinping has been amassing power in his own hands. He's been knocking out his political rivals in an anti-corruption campaign. And last year, China declared a new era under Xi Jinping's leadership, and they wrote his official ideology into the constitution. And that's not something every leader can do. So it suggested that he was ending previous arrangements. And according to recent tradition, they should've designated Xi's successor last year. But there's still no sign of any heir apparent.
MCCAMMON: And how much of a sense are we getting of why China's leaders are moving in this direction?
KUHN: Well, this was announced in state media on Sunday. And there's no explanation yet. What Xi's supporters are saying is that these are special times, and they demanded some special arrangements. They say that Xi Jinping has an ambitious agenda ahead of him to reform the country's economy and politics. And he has a lot of vested bureaucratic interests to overcome. And this is going to require some extra time, and it may require extra continuity, which will make the country more stable. Now, these changes to the constitution will actually have to be approved at a session of China's parliament in March. But that parliament has never voted down any piece of legislation that the party in government has put before it. So it's basically seen as a done deal.
MCCAMMON: And finally, Anthony, how much concern are you hearing about this proposal?
KUHN: Well, discussion of it in China's state media is pretty heavily censored at the moment. But it's clear that people are worried because it runs counter to the trend of the past 40 years or so, which is basically China's reform era. And during that time, the problem of political succession has been seen as China's sort of Achilles heel. And leaders have tried to make the succession more institutionalized, more orderly and predictable. And term limits are a part of that. And so rolling this back really raises the specter of succession struggles and political instability.
MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn. Thanks so much.
KUHN: You're welcome.