Robert Lawrence Kuhn Minxin Pei
Making sense of Xi's power grab in China
13:18 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Steven Jiang is CNN’s senior producer in Beijing. He was born in Shanghai and moved to the United States from China as a teenager.

Beijing CNN  — 

Even by China’s standard, the annual session of the country’s largely ceremonial parliament seems to be a much more choreographed affair this year – with one thorny subject that almost none of the 3,000 legislators wants to broach in front of foreign media.

In and out of meeting venues, many delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC) have appeared visibly uncomfortable when asked about the ruling Communist Party’s proposal to scrap presidential term limits in the Chinese constitution, which could pave the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

However, loud applause erupted from the delegates in the cavernous Great Hall of the People earlier this week, as a senior official explained that popular demand had prompted the party to call for removing the restriction on the presidency to two consecutive five-year terms.

On Sunday that move becomes official, with delegates set to wave through the amendment in a closed-door vote.

“The NPC used to be a forum where a limited amount of dissent could be shown by giving less than 100% approval for something,” said Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“It seems very unlikely that, even though there are a lot of concerns over this particular change, that anyone would raise it in a public environment in the current atmosphere.”

By midweek the 64-year-old Xi, already hailed the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, had himself given a ringing endorsement to this and other constitutional changes, calling them a reflection of the “common will of the party and the people.”