Chinese officials have been urged to throw their support behind Xi Jinping at the opening of a pivotal meeting of the country’s parliament where plans for the president to rule indefinitely are set to be confirmed.

The comments by Li Keqiang, the prime minister, come as the ruling Communist Party sought to justify the move to scrap presidential terms by saying it had been called for by officials and the general public.

The proposals have prompted concern from some that China is returning to the one-man rule of past dictators such as Mao Tse-tung.

But Mr Li urged more than 3,000 delegates at the National People’s Congress (NPC): “Resolutely safeguard General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core status and the authority of the party’s central committee and its centralized and unified leadership.”

An explanation of the proposed changes to the constitution that was handed out to the legislators said they had been formulated after unanimous backing from officials and the country.

Many sectors of the Chinese government and public “unanimously appealed for amending the constitution,” said the notes, which were circulated at the start of the meeting of the rubber stamp parliament.

But China’s new middle classes and intellectuals would fear the country turning the clock back on 40 years of reform that followed the death of Mao in 1976.

Andrew Nathan, a China expert at the University of Columbia, said acquiesce by some sectors would be ‘fragile’ in the long term.

“As long as the economy continues to grow, I expect most of the population to prefer the governmental status quo to any drastic change,” he told The Telegraph.

“Yet, people’s attitudes are complex. Even while accepting Xi’s rule, people are too smart not to know that they are being lied to, silenced, required to display an out-dated kind of fealty.

“That revolutionary naiveté that Mao drew upon doesn’t exist any more. I think obeisance to the Xi cult is more form than substance, and that makes it fragile. ”

However, obedience to Mr Xi was strong among the hand-picked NPC deputies who were meeting in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People.

Dao Xiaoqin, a delegate from the south-western Yunnan province, told The Telegraph: “Yes, I will voice my support for Xi being China’s president for life. I will back the amendments to China’s Constitution.”

Pu Binbin, a delegate from the megacity of Chongqing, in China’s south west, said:  “I will vote yes to the amendment to the Constitution as I support decisions which will help China further develop.” 

The vote on China’s constitution will be held on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Mr Li also announced that China’s military spending will rise eight percent to 1.1 trillion yuan (£125 billion, as Beijing continues to modernise and streamline its army.

It compares with a seven percent increase last year and 7.6 percent in 2016, which marked the first time in six years that spending growth had not risen into double figures.

China has cut 300,000 troops from its forces, leaving it with an army of around two million solders.

Beijing is also preparing to launch its second aircraft carrier and has been developing a high-tech fighting force, equipped with stealth jets and advanced missiles.

Mr Li also set this year’s economic growth target at around 6.5 percent, which would be among the world’s strongest if achieved, but way below the double digits during the peak years of China’s economic rise.

China has the world’s second largest defence budget, but it remains only about a quarter of what the United States spends on its military.

Mr Trump last year said he intended to increase US military spending by ten percent to $603 (£491 billion). The US total is about nine times that of Russia, who have the third biggest military budget.