China's President Xi Jinping  and US President Donald Trump Artyom Ivanov\TASS via Getty Images

China as Seen from a Glass House

The removal of presidential term limits in China sent shock waves around the world. But the real issues that should be confronted – not just in China, but also in the US – concern the quality of a country's leadership.

NEW HAVEN – The removal from the Chinese constitution of the provision limiting presidents to two five-year terms came as a shock to many. For China, the institutionalization of leadership succession was one of Deng Xiaoping’s most important legacies, signaling an end to the wrenching instability of the chaotic leadership cult of Mao Zedong. For the West, the term limit was an ideological bridge that led to a path of engagement. Could its abolition be the tipping point for an already precarious Sino-American relationship?

Start with China and what the move means for its future. To figure out what will change under a different framework for leadership succession, it is important to cut through the authorities’ opaque rhetoric – the “moderately well-off society” transitioning into the “new era” – and stress-test their basic development strategy.

While anything is possible, and there is always a risk of mistakes, my bet is that China stays its current course. Succession or not, there can be no turning back from a transition that has brought a large, poor developing country to the brink of prosperity as a modern, high-income economy.

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