A Critique of Japan’s Proposed Constitutional Reforms Morphs into “Comments-Section Referendum” on Xi

A Chinese government official’s Weibo post lecturing Japan about the danger of amending its constitution—standard nationalist fare on the microblogging site—turned into a forum for criticizing a 2018 Chinese constitutional amendment that opened the door for Xi Jinping to remain in the presidency for life. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian posted a Chinese-language Global Times editorial titled “Amending the Japanese Constitution is a Pandora’s Box, a Recipe for Disaster.” The article warned against a proposed amendment to Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist 1947 constitution that would establish the constitutionality of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. The amendment was a central plank in the political platform of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated while campaigning last week. Just two days after Abe’s death, his political party, the Liberal Democratic Party, won a large majority in parliamentary elections, potentially opening the door for constitutional revisions. The Global Times editorial warned against rising “militarism” in Japan and inveighed against the country “leveraging the Ukraine conflict to ‘commit eggshell extortion’ over the Taiwan issue.” The editorial also accused the United States of being a shadow partner in Japan’s amendment drive: “Japan wouldn’t have the nerve to go through with this amendment without America’s permission.” (The amendment does have many backers in American political circles, and even the influential Washington Post editorial board has published an opinion piece urging U.S. policy makers to support the amendment.)

Instead of latching onto standard nationalist talking points, a number of Weibo users instead decided to point out the hypocrisy of the Global Times article that Zhao had shared. China amended its constitution in 2018 to abolish presidential term limits, a move that paved the way for Xi to remain in power beyond 2022. Criticism of the amendment was, and remains, heavily censored. Terms such as “ascend the throne,” “chairman + for life system,” “Yuan Shikai,” and “crooked-neck tree” have been erased from the Chinese internet.

Sometime this fall, the Chinese Communist Party will convene its 20th National Party Congress. Xi is widely expected to remain in power for a third term, a tenure unprecedented in China’s post-reform-and-opening era. His predicted reappointment as president has been accompanied by a burgeoning personality cult. A 2021 “resolution on history,” only the third of its kind in the Party’s history, cemented Xi as “the core.” In recent months, provincial officials jockeying for promotions have competed to heap fulsome praise on Xi, hailing him as a “beacon,” a “compass,” and a “fulcrum,” possessing “keen insight into every matter.” 

Yet as evidenced by the comments section of Zhao Lijian’s Weibo post warning about the “Pandora’s box” of constitutional amendments, not all are so enamored with Xi:

********:“Brother, best not mention it, but didn’t China also… [doge]”

********:“Didn’t we also…”

蛋******你:You sure got that right.

CaiHouLang: Fecal Times: “Amending the Chinese Constitution is a Pandora’s Box, a Recipe for Unchecked Power.” [Chinese]

The comments section was soon locked, deleted, and “restocked” with comments imbued with positive energy. The top post after the change read, “Thank you, Mr. Zhao! Got it. 👍👍”


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