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Chinese President Appears to Score Political Victory with Viral Videos

A screenshot from a Chinese propaganda video that warns of the ‘dark shadow of the Stars and Stripes’
A screenshot from a Chinese propaganda video that warns of the ‘dark shadow of the Stars and Stripes’

Chinese President Xi Jinping appears to have scored another major political victory over his internal rivals following two ultra-nationalistic propaganda videos by the Youth League of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Analysts say the videos, which went viral on Chinese social media, seem intended to pledge absolute loyalty to President Xi following reports of upcoming purges in the organization, which has long been seen as a power base for rival factions in the Communist Party.

Within the CPC, Xi is widely thought to have seen the youth wing, endorsed by his predecessor Hu Jintao and current Premier Li Keqiang, as the biggest rival faction within the party.

By weakening the faction, the message Xi intends to send is that the Youth League is no longer a viable force to challenge his grip on power internally, according to Willy Lam, a Hong Kong-based expert on elite Chinese politics.

Xi’s grip on power

Since last year, the party’s Youth League has come under heavy criticism from Xi. Earlier this year, the party’s central commission for discipline inspection publicly admonished the league for four major flaws; “bureaucratization, administration, aristocrats and excessive entertainment,” which paved the way for Xi to push forward a reform plan, including a nearly 50 percent budget cut.

“Xi Jinping said that the league has lost touch with the masses. It was no longer doing service to young Chinese or young party members. And it spent too much money on banquets and trips around the country and so forth. So, you can say [the] purge of the Youth League is not surprising,” Lam said.

A screengrab of a Chinese propaganda video called 'This is China'
A screengrab of a Chinese propaganda video called 'This is China'

Anti-American propaganda

It’s under such backdrop that the league, on Monday and Thursday respectively, released two minutes-long video clips on its Weibo account to profess loyalty, according to observers.

The videos warn viewers against what it says are U.S.-backed threats to trigger a “color revolution” in China similar to those in Ukraine, Georgia and the Arab Spring.

One of them was further reloaded onto the Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s Weibo accounts as it touches upon rights advocates, including those on trial, who are perceived by authorities as having conspired with foreign agents to subvert the Chinese state, instead of promoting the rule of law.

That message, observers say, contributed to its popularity and social media coverage while signaling that it was viewed by the CPC as both a legal and political issue.

Both videos apparently target younger audience as they are set to soaring background music, including a rap, and amassed millions of viewers within 24 hours after their debut.

Youth League purge

Analysts expect the youth wing’s upcoming purge to further fuel the disagreement between Xi and Li as the nation’s top leaders have seen eye to eye on policy priorities in areas such as income inequality and economic reforms.

But will that lead to Li’s stepping down?

“Maybe. There is a persistent rumor that CCDI [central committee of discipline inspection] chief Wang Qishan will replace Li as Premier,” Jon Taylor, a political science professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, said in an emailed reply to VOA.

Should the purge succeed, any other factions, be it Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai faction or Hu’s youth league faction, will likely be eclipsed by the so-called Zhejiang clique, which is comprised of the second-generation Gang of Princelings, the Shaanxi clique, and those loyal to Xi, the professor added.

“While the CYL [Communist Youth League] faction is still one of the biggest cliques in the CPC, Xi continues to consolidate and enhance his power,” Taylor said in a reply emailed to VOA.

The Gang of Princelings are descendants of prominent and influential communist officials in China, including Xi and the ousted Bo Xilai, while the Shaanxi clique mainly refers to the party’s seven Politburo central standing committee members who were born in Shaanxi province, including Xi himself.

Amid the power struggle, the CPC on Tuesday released documents entitled “the proposal on the reform of the Youth League’s central comment”, with changes aimed at implementing Xi-instigated restructuring work on its organization.

According to official Xinhua news agency, the league will overhaul its leadership system, streamline its personnel system and reform its decision-making bodies at its various levels. The league, in return, vowed to improve its work at the grass-roots level, which are aimed at ideological education among young Chinese.

The league, established in Shanghai in 1920, used to be a cradle for promising party stars, counting Hu and Li among its veterans.

Not a talent pool

But now, under Xi’s leadership, that responsibility as a talent incubator will be ended.

“What Xi Jinping said was the Communist Youth League should no longer fulfill the function as a place for nurturing future leaders, but it should focus on doing ideological work among young party members and party cadres to ensure that they will pass master with ideological requirements, such as being faithful to socialism and so forth,” Lam argued.

But the reform, which aims to expand the league’s political influence among young Chinese to elicit their loyalty to the Community party, may be too conservative to alienate many youth.

“Judging from its orientation, the [youth] reform won’t be a liberal and innovative one. Instead, it’s inclined to promote the compliance of doctrine,” said Chen Wei, a political science professor at Renmin University.

That will be hard to appeal to the masses, who are more liberal-minded with the tendency to make their own choices, he added.

Allen Ai contributed to this report.