US President Donald Trump on Saturday praised his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for becoming the country’s leader “for life”, after the Communist Party announced it would end the two-term limit for the presidency.
“He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said during closed-door remarks to Republican donors in Florida, in audio aired by CNN. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”
The president’s remarks drew applause and laughter from the audience. It is not clear if Trump, 71, was making the comment about extending presidential service in jest. The White House did not respond to a Reuters request for comment late Saturday.
US Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat, said on Twitter that “whether this was a joke or not, talking about being President for life like Xi Jinping is the most unAmerican sentiment expressed by an American President. George Washington would roll over in his grave.”
US presidents by tradition served a maximum of two four-year terms until President Franklin Roosevelt was elected a record four times starting in 1932. An amendment to the US Constitution approved in 1951 limits presidents to two terms in office.
In order to change the current prohibition, it would require initial support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress or support of two-thirds of state legislatures – and then would need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.
China’s annual parliament gathering kicks off on Monday as Xi presses ahead with efforts to ward off financial risks without undermining the economy. The Communist party announced on Feb 25 the end of the two-term limit for the president – and the parliament is expected to ratify the move.
“I’m telling you, it’s a rigged system folks,” Trump said of the fact that his actions during the 2016 election campaign were still under scrutiny, while his opponent Hillary Clinton’s were not.
“I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a rigged system. And we don’t have the right people in there yet. We have a lot of great people, but certain things, we don’t have the right people,” he said.
Trump also praised Xi as “a great gentleman” and added: “He’s the most powerful (Chinese) president in a hundred years.” Trump said Xi had treated him “tremendously well” during his visit in November.
He has often praised Xi, but in January Trump told Reuters the United States was considering a big “fine” as part of a probe into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property. He has been critical of China’s trade policies.
Trump told The New York Times in December that because of North Korea he had “been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war.”
Additional reporting from Reuters.