The ruling Communist Party approved a program Tuesday to enhance its popularity at home and China's image abroad at a time when the leadership is struggling with domestic unrest and a delicate succession.
Ending a four-day annual policy meeting, the Central Committee _ nearly 400 of the power elite including alternates _ wrapped up their gathering with the adoption of a communique on boosting China's cultural influence overseas while reinforcing socialist principles among the increasingly independent-minded population at home.
"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. Although its internal selection process is always secretive, this time it is creating a sense of uncertainty and policy paralysis given that the economy is slowing and public anger over issues such as corruption is growing.
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 dealing 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 had approved a decision to hold the 18th national party congress _ a gathering held every five years where leadership changes usually occur _ 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 feeling entitled by rising prosperity to demand change.
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.
"Because of differences in ideology and values and the worship of Cold War thinking, there still exists bias, misunderstandings and doubts about China in international public opinion," Vice Propaganda Minister Wang Chen said in an interview published in the party newspaper Study Times this week. Wang said that some people he did not further identify used human rights, Tibet and other issues to "obstruct our country's domestic stability."
"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," Wang said.
Meanwhile, China's cultural weakness was bemoaned in an editorial in the overseas edition of the party's official People's Daily Tuesday penned by Ye Xiaowen, a Central Committee alternate and former top official for overseeing religious groups.
Cultural development has lagged behind rising diplomatic and economic clout, reducing China's overall influence and exposing it to foreign dominance, Ye wrote.
One answer in Beijing's eyes is a buildup of the country's cultural industry _ from media companies to publishers and movie studios _ to resist encroachment of Western ideas and to vie overseas with large media conglomerates the party says dominate the global discourse.
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.
Tuesday's communique contained copious references to "core socialist values" in an assertion that China's circumstances are unique and unsuited to Western notions of civil liberties.
China's leaders have long been wary of Western influences challenging the one-party system, once warning of "spiritual pollution" and more recently seeking to tame the Internet and social networking to block cultural integration with the outside.
Culture began to figure more prominently in party discussions during the 1990s, and recent years have seen huge sums devoted to projects from expanding state media's presence abroad to building up the local film and publishing industry.
Investments in the cultural sector grew by 22.2 percent last year to 152.8 billion yuan ($24 billion).