Chinese leader calls for innovation as economic growth slows

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BEIJING (AP) — Rapturous crowds. Beaming workers. Pep talks for the troops.

The TV coverage Thursday of Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent visit to an eastern province was a tour de force of Communist propaganda, showcasing what's seen as an emerging cult of personality around the country's strongest leader in decades.

While such treatment isn't unusual for Chinese leaders, the high-octane 17-minute report on state broadcaster CCTV was the most extensive in some time. With the economy ailing and morale low among bureaucrats, Xi could use the image boost to show he's concerned with public welfare, political analysts say.

"Xi's in a situation where he's facing dissatisfaction on various levels. His best move is to go straight to the people for support," said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian and independent political commentator.

The report, which topped CCTV's noon broadcast, showed Xi visiting a shipyard, government planning offices and unusually tidy villages full of rosy-cheeked farmers. On each occasion, he was met and seen off by cheering, clapping crowds who seemed barely able to contain their enthusiasm, in a style reminiscent of Communist China's founder Mao Zedong or current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Dressed in a crisp white shirt and slacks, Xi waved back, shook hands, pointed at things and offered advice on how to make things better.

"As long as we can make the most of talented people and give full play to innovation, China's development will have a promising future and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be soon," Xi was quoted as saying by CCTV.

The province Xi was visiting, Zhejiang, is one of China's most economically vibrant, and the visit's imagery coincides with Xi's calls for more sustainable, higher-quality growth as China's overall economy decelerates from the breakneck pace of the past three decades.

Xi spent five years as party secretary of Zhejiang, located just outside Shanghai, and has continued to accord it special attention since moving to Beijing in 2007 — assuring him of an especially enthusiastic reception as he seeks to drum up support among the masses.

The visit also marked a shift in priorities for Xi, who has spent the last several months focused largely on foreign affairs. It comes amid worries that slowing growth could spark mass unemployment, creating social friction and adding to the estimated 150,000 incidents of unrest striking the vast nation each year.

Meanwhile, a relentless drive against corruption in which thousands of party and government officials have been investigated has sent morale plunging among the civil service.

"Xi felt he had to drum up mass support to bolster his base, so in a sense it was a sign of weakness," said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong's Chinese University.

In keeping with his role as head of the armed forces, Xi also visited with provincial military leaders. CCTV said he told them to "track and guide troops' ideological thinking and teach them to obey the command of the Communist Party of China," as well as to boost combat training to "hone the troops' abilities to fulfil tasks and maintain readiness to fight."