Guest opinion: We should all be concerned about China’s move toward a ‘strongman’ leader

The National People’s Congress of China recently approved a plan to eliminate the constitutionally set term limits on President Xi Jinping, allowing him to lead the country beyond 2023. Freedom is an essential ingredient for men and women to reach their full potential. With this decision, China has officially entered into the era of strongman dictators and we should all be concerned. 

Former Brookings Institute President Strobe Talbott once said: “The United States is a country founded on a set of ideas, and ideals, applicable to people everywhere. The Founding Fathers declared that all were created equal-not just those in Britain’s 13 American colonies-and that to secure the ‘unalienable rights’ of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, people had the right to establish governments that derive ‘their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Those of us who live in free and open societies all over the world should condemn the decision of the Chinese Communist Party. China has repeatedly shown a disdain for international law and its neighbors’ sovereignty with its aggressive expansion in the South China Sea. Mr. Xi has long sought to reassert China’s influence on the global stage. His thoughts on Chinese Communism were added to the Party’s Platform at the 2017 National People’s Congress, elevating him to the same level as Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China. This week’s rubber stamp vote solidifies his authority and ensures the stability of his rule, we can expect more regionally destabilizing actions like those in the South China Sea.

Opposition to the Constitutional change in China is quickly being silenced by Chinese authorities. Internet censors are actively removing any negative commentary, but it hasn’t stopped courageous individuals like ex-state newspaper editor Li Datong. He sent an open letter opposing the proposal on the popular messaging app WeChat, saying that lifting term limits would “sow the seeds of chaos.” According to reports, his letter was shared widely before the government censors deleted it.

Nelson Mandela once said “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” For us to truly be free we must not stand idly by as the freedom of the Chinese people is choked out of existence. The courage shown by Li Datong and others, despite oppressive atmosphere in China, is admirable. It should be matched by action from leaders around the world. We have a duty to enhance the freedom of others, including the people of China. We can do this by speaking out. Calling out the oppressive actions of the Chinese government for what they are. Freedom thrives when the light of transparency is allowed to shine. We can enhance our calls for freedom by harnessing the power of technology. Chinese government censors should not be given the ability to selectively block content such as Mr. Li’s open letter decrying changes to presidential term limits.

Technology companies can help in the effort to free China by ensuring that content can get to the people of China. Additionally, Chinese consumers desire American products because of their quality. The U.S. government and U.S. companies should leverage that desire for American goods such as electronics, food and nutritional supplements to bring about change. We must also urge companies to do as Nelson Mandela says and enhance the freedom of others. They need to work for the liberty of people, not be accomplices in oppression. Freedom is essential for true happiness and prosperity in the world. We must work to ensure that it thrives in all corners of our planet.

Andy Pierucci is in his final year of obtaining a Masters of Public Administration with an emphasis in international management at the University of Utah. He’s passionate about foreign policy and issues that impact our national security.