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China’s top communists call for cultural campaign

BEIJING >> The ruling Communist Party has approved a program to make ideology more popular at home and boost China’s image abroad at a time when the leadership is struggling with a more demanding public and a delicate political succession.

Ending a four-day annual policy meeting Tuesday, the Central Committee — 365 of the power elite — adopted a jargon-filled communique on boosting China’s cultural influence overseas while reinforcing socialist principles among an Internet-connected population looking beyond the party for ideas and inspiration.

“More and more, culture is becoming a fount of national cohesiveness and creativity,” the communique said. “More and more, culture is becoming an important element of comprehensive national strength and competitiveness,” it said.

While the gathering’s stated aim was to hammer out the new cultural initiative, the closed-door event was an occasion for networking and jockeying over the transition when President Hu Jintao and many other top leaders begin to step down a year from now.

The broad outlines of the succession have taken shape, with Vice President Xi Jinping expected to replace Hu and Vice Premier Li Keqiang to take over from Premier Wen Jiabao. But party power brokers are trying to fill seven other slots in the Politburo Standing Committee and deal with an uncharacteristically open campaign from Bo Xilai, the telegenic, populist party secretary of the central city of Chongqing.

Reports on the gathering made no direct reference to the leadership maneuverings, apart from saying the gathering approved a decision to hold the party congress that will inaugurate the new leadership in the second half of next year, as was widely anticipated.

The focus on cultural issues — a shorthand for ideology — comes at a precarious time for the leadership. Beijing feels that China’s stunning rise should translate into more respect from other powers and a greater say in world affairs. Meanwhile, at home, Chinese leaders are under pressure from a public that is upset over income inequality, corruption and other ills of rapid growth and feels empowered by rising prosperity and social media to criticize the government.

Chinese leaders have tried to bolster their legitimacy with this noisy public by appealing to patriotic sentiments, depicting the West as determined to sabotage the country’s ascent and the party as the bulwark against the threat.

It has also mounted concerted efforts to police the Internet and, after the “Arab spring” protests unseated autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia, to intimidate Chinese political activists from launching a similar movement.

Ahead of the party gathering, senior propaganda officials and prominent state-run media portrayed China as being engaged in an ideological and cultural war with the West.

“We should reasonably, favorably and appropriately conduct a struggle for international public opinion. This is of vital importance for preserving national interests, security, social stability and ethnic unity,” Vice Propaganda Minister Wang Chen said in an interview published this week in the party newspaper, Study Times.

To compete, Tuesday’s communique said that China must create more “outstanding cultural products” — books, films, art — to attract Chinese and foreign audiences. A report on the national evening TV newscast that followed news about the meeting touted state-sponsored song-and-dance reviews, like one that appeared at Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as an example of what China needs to do.

“Building a strong country of socialist culture will promote advanced socialist culture more deeply in people’s hearts,” the meeting statement said.

The communique repeatedly called for the promotion of “core socialist values” — a phrase meant to counter calls by liberal Chinese for “universal values” such as freedom of expression, which state media often portray as Western concepts unsuited to China’s unique circumstances.

The party “stressed the need to promote the system of core socialist values to strengthen party unity and the struggle of the people with a common ideological and moral foundation.”

State media have spoken more bluntly about the need to create Chinese companies that can compete with the foreign media conglomerates the government says dominate international debate.

A commentary in the party’s flagship People’s Daily this weekend said that revenues of China’s 500-plus publishing houses did not equal that of German media powerhouse Bertelsmann AG. It decried that Walt Disney Co.’s “Mulan” appropriated a Chinese legend that proved popular at the box office.

“A country that can only export television sets but not its ideas will never become a great power,” said the commentary.

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