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Leaders aim to expand 'influence' of Chinese culture
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Oct 19, 2011

China's leaders have agreed guidelines aimed at preserving "cultural security" and expanding Chinese soft power, state media reported at the end of a key meeting of Communist Party chiefs.

The country will strive to improve its citizens' "sense of identity and confidence in Chinese culture", according to a statement issued late Tuesday following the secretive annual four-day plenum in Beijing, Xinhua said.

China was facing a challenge to protect "cultural security" and enhance its "soft power and the international influence of its own culture", the statement said.

President Hu Jintao, the party's general secretary, delivered a speech approving a document stating that "China's cultural industry will play a more critical part in the country's economic and social development", Xinhua said.

"The country should not only provide its people with ample material life, but also a healthy and rich cultural life," the statement said.

It added that it was "imperative to promote the socialist core values" by incorporating them in education, party building, and "ethical progress".

Analysts say the meeting was largely aimed at strengthening the party's tight control over the media and the Internet.

With more than half a billion Internet users and over 200 million users of microblogging sites, authorities are increasingly concerned about the power of the Internet to influence public opinion in a country that maintains tight controls over its traditional media outlets.

"The reform of the cultural system has to do with ensuring that the media, publications, movies, Internet, et cetera serve the partys goal of galvanising patriotic and nationalistic sentiments," said Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"This will mean even tighter control over peoples freedom of expression, especially on the Internet."

But in a commentary, Xinhua said the meeting should be seen as a strong signal for China to do better in the cultural field, where it has been lagging.

"Culture is emerging as an important part of the country's comprehensive competitiveness," the commentary said, noting that it was the first time cultural issues had been the focus of the plenary session for over 15 years.

Although movie box office takings had expanded 10-fold since 2002 to 10 billion yuan ($1.53 billion), the Chinese do not regard the country as a world cultural power, it said.

Xinhua also noted that the ratio of imported to exported television programmes was 15:1, with Friends and Sex and the City among the popular shows.

The agency also asked where the Chinese Steve Jobs would be found, in a country that idolises the late Apple boss, but has "comparitively weak creativity in its cultural industry and electronics sector".

The plenum was the senior party leaders' last annual meeting ahead of a generational change in leadership next year.

The annual meeting of China's Communist Party -- the largest political party in the world with more than 80 million members -- is held behind closed doors at a secret location in the capital.

Xinhua said the 18th national congress of the Communist Party, where China's next leaders will be confirmed, would be held in Beijing in the second half of 2012.

This year's plenum came as Hu prepares to end his second five-year term as party head next year, before stepping down as president in 2013.

Premier Wen Jiabao and his government will also resign in 2013 and analysts have said this week's meeting would provide one of the last opportunities for the exiting regime to leave its mark on the direction of the party.

Vice President Xi Jinping is widely expected to take over Hu's posts as head of the party and head of state, while Vice Premier Li Keqiang is widely tipped to be the next prime minister.

But the allocation of other positions within the party and government are still the subject of power struggles at the highest levels, analysts said.

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