Appearing on BBC Newsnight Steve Tsang, Director of the SOAS China Institute, claimed the most powerful man in China was only interested in staying on beyond a second term in the role so that he could continue to go on state visits.
China’s ruling party has proposed scrapping a constitutional clause limiting the leader to two terms in office and the leader could theoretically now stay on even longer than the 37-year reign of the recently deposed Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
Explaining why Xi Jinping would be interested in remaining President after the end of his second term, Mr Tsang said: “I think he’s doing it for two reasons.
“One, he’s doing it now because he can.
“He’s got to a point where he’s consolidated his position, he’s in a sweet spot, and the resistance within the party is not going to be able to stop him.
“He also likes the idea that after the year 2023, he can still go on formal state visits.”
Host of the programme, Evan Davis, couldn’t help but laugh when the expert suggested that trips abroad formal dinners with leaders around the world were the reason for the power grab.
Mr Davis said: “You think he’s interested in the trappings of being President?”
Mr Tsang continued: “Well that’s the only difference for him to stay on as state President or not.
“He’s running the country isn’t he, he’s running the show? He gets to do more than just the nice car doesn’t he?
“Well, he doesn’t run the country as President of China.
“He runs the country as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.
“There are no term limits as to how many times he can serve as General Secretary, he already indicated at the annual party conference last October that he would stay on as General Secretary.”
Since taking office more than five years ago, Xi has overseen a radical shake-up of China’s Communist Party, including getting rid of top leaders once thought untouchable as part of a war on deep-rooted corruption.
Xi, 64, is currently required by China’s constitution to step down as president after two five-year terms.
Nearing the end of his first presidential term, he will be formally elected to a second at the annual meeting of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament opening on March 5.
There has been persistent speculation that Xi wants to stay on in office past the customary two five-year terms.
The October party congress ended without appointing a clear eventual successor for Xi.