China has launched a social media crackdown after criticism of President Xi Jinping’s plan to remain in office indefinitely was revealed.
Searches for “I object”, “proclaimed king”, “tenure system” and “Winnie the Pooh” – the portly cartoon character which Mr Xi has often been compared – were blocked.
Some articles reporting the news were also taken down, while pieces praising the ruling Communist Party were published as part of a concerted push to control the political agenda.
The party has proposed removing a constitutional clause which limits a president to two terms in office, which could mean Mr Xi, who also leads the party and military, staying in power for years to come.
The proposal is set to be passed by delegates loyal to the party at the annual meeting of China’s parliament next month and forms part of a package of amendments to the constitution.
Other changes include adding Mr Xi’s political thoughts to the document, setting a legal framework for an anti-corruption body and broadly strengthening the Communist Party’s grip on power.
But while Mr Xi is broadly popular, the move has sparked concerns it will leave him with too much power.
“Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” wrote one user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.
The Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded the nation in 1948 and his heirs have been in power ever since.
“We’re following the example of our neighbour,” wrote another user.
The messages were removed late on Sunday after Weibo began blocking posts which included the phrase “two-term limit”.
A number of jokes also circulated. One showed a picture of a condom in its wrapping under the words “doing it twice is not enough”.
In an unusual step amid intense international attention, the country’s foreign ministry – which usually only comments on diplomatic issues – said amending the constitution was up to the Chinese people.
Spokesman Lu Kang said that since 1954, when the constitution was adopted, the document has been “continuously improved”.
“I hope everyone can acknowledge the voice of all the Chinese people,” he said.
The Global Times newspaper said in an editorial that the term limit change did not mean Mr Xi will stay in office forever, although it did not offer an explanation for making this point.
The party’s official People’s Daily reprinted an article from the Xinhua news agency, which stated that most people supported the reforms.
“The broad part of officials and the masses say that they hoped this constitutional reform is passed,” it wrote.
The decision has caused disquiet in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, where authorities have been attempting to get a restive pro-democracy movement under control.
Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the movement, said: “This move, which would allow for a single individual to amass and accumulate political power, means that China would again have a dictator as her head of state – Xi Jinping.”
Beijing is likely to view such criticism as a plot against the party.
“Every time China deliberates on reforms and key decisions, effect on public opinion is worth pondering,” the Global Times wrote.
“Misinformation and external forces’ meddling will affect public opinion in China.”