Chinese President Xi Jinping has issued a rallying call for Communist Party cadres in charge of propaganda and ideology to close ranks around the “party core” as Beijing faces an escalating trade war with the United States and clearer pushback at home.
Xi made the call in a keynote speech at a high-level, five-yearly work conference held in Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The conference was attended by most members of the Politburo and will set the tone for the country’s ideological direction for the coming years. It came soon after the political elite returned from their annual summer break at the coastal resort of Beidaihe last week.
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The conference was chaired by Wang Huning, the ruling Communist Party’s ideology chief and a member of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee.
Addressing propaganda officials and state media executives, Xi said the mission for the party’s propaganda and ideology work under “new era” was to “unify minds and gather strengths”, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
“We should adhere to the correct political direction, strengthen propaganda and ideology work to tightly unify the ideals and faith, the values and ideas and the morals and ethics of all our people to make greater contributions to the cause of the party and the country,” the president was quoted as saying.
The rallying cry came as the party confronts a rough summer of rising discontent, not only from the trade war but also from domestic woes ranging from a slowing economy to a vaccine scandal and pushback against a controversial constitutional amendment that scrapped presidential term limits for Xi.
Some have also blamed both the party’s overblown, nationalistic propaganda and its tightening control on ideology for fanning US fears and hampering understanding between US and Chinese policy advisers.
Beijing has sought to tone down such triumphalist rhetoric, with party mouthpiece People’s Daily censuring the “repeatedly boastful and arrogant” and warning that media claims that “the US is scared” or “Japan is in awe” of its achievements will leave the country open to criticism.
But in a subtle rebuttal of the criticism and an apparent attempt to stop the debate, Xi told the conference that the party’s work on propaganda and ideology in the past five years had been “completely correct”, and that the party’s propagandists and ideologists were “completely trustworthy”.
He also vowed to strengthen the party’s control over propaganda and ideology, and repeated the need to promote Marxism, ensure “correct guidance of public opinion”, and improve China’s image and cultural influence abroad.
Shanghai-based political analyst Chen Daoyin said a recent personnel shuffle could signal some adjustments by the party to its external propaganda.
“But one thing that will not change is the party’s strict control of the media, public opinion and ideology,” Chen said.
The broadcast excerpts of Xi’s speech were tightly scripted, and the full version might never be officially released.
At the same work conference five years ago, Xi delivered a hardline speech that set off a wave of tighter controls over the media, the internet, academia and officialdom.
State-run news agency Xinhua published excerpts of the speech, but the full version was later leaked and circulated widely on the internet.
In what was later known to be the “August 19 speech”, Xi gave a sober warning about the lack of belief in party ideology among cadres and vowed to crack down on any discussion that “maliciously attacks the party’s leadership, the socialist system or distorts the history of the party or the country”.
He also warned that the internet had become “the main battlefield for the war on public opinion”, accusing “Western anti-China forces” of using the web to defeat China.
“Whether we could hold our ground and win the fight on the battlefield of the internet directly has the direct bearing on the safety of our country’s ideology and regime,” he said in 2013.
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