What title should be used for the head of the world’s largest country?
China is the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy. In 2018, Forbes ranked Chinese leader Xi Jinping as the most powerful person in the world, ahead of such figures as Vladimir Putin at #2, Donald Trump at #3, and Pope Francis at #6.
Xi has three official titles in the government: head of state, chairman of the central military commission; and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the only political party allowed to rule the country. In other words, he’s head of the country, head of the military, and head of the party.
None of those titles are “president,” despite the U.S. government often having referred to the Chinese leader with that title since the 1980s. “Head of state” isn’t equivalent to a president either; Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the United Kingdom.
This bill is based on the belief that any leader of a country with the title “president” should be popularly elected, with caveats for variations like the Electoral College. Xi’s head of state position, though popularly called “president,” was determined not by the public but instead by a congress of the CCP.
Recent proposed changes
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission was created by Congress to submit an annual report on relations between the two nations. Their 2019 report ceased referring to Xi as president.
“If there were glimmers of political opening in China, they have been firmly extinguished. It is for this reason that this year the Commission made the decision to start referring to Xi Jinping using the title by which he derives his authority: General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party,” the 2019 report read.
“China is not a democracy, and its citizens have no right to vote, assemble, or speak freely. Giving General Secretary Xi the unearned title of ‘President’ lends a veneer of democratic legitimacy to the CCP and Xi’s authoritarian rule.”
Since then, top U.S. officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Attorney General William Barr have chosen to follow suit.
What the bill does
The Name the Enemy Act would outright *require *that the government follow suit. The bill would mandate any U.S. government documents refer to the leader of China, whether Xi Jinping or any future leader, as either “General Secretary” or “General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.”
It was introduced in the House on August 7 as bill number H.R. 7981, by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA10).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that China engages in evil state-sponsored practices, and the person calling the shots does not deserve the legitimacy that the title ‘president’ may convey.
“The leadership of the People’s Republic of China has gone unchallenged in its perverse pursuits of human rights abuses across decades. Such blatant disregard for basic human decency run contrary to the well-functioning of an open and civilized society,” Rep. Perry wrote in the introduction of the bill’s text. “Ultimate responsibility for these outrages must lie with the head of state of the People’s Republic of China.”
“Addressing the head of state of the People’s Republic of China as a ‘President’ grants the incorrect assumption that the people of the state, via democratic means, have readily legitimized the leader who rules them,” Rep. Perry continued. “The head of state of the People’s Republic of China derives all power and authority from the Chinese Communist Party, and is accountable only to them.”
What opponents say
GovTrack Insider was unable to find any explicit statements of opposition, likely because of the bill’s low odds of passage.
However, one likely claim of opponents is that this bill is simply “red-baiting” against China, the foreign enemy du jour of Republicans. After all, some other world leaders are referred to as “president” despite having either dubious or outright nonexistent claims to earning the office through democratic or public support, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Yet there isn’t any Republican-led legislation to cease calling any of them president.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted four cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.