China appoints new propaganda minister

November 22, 2012 - 6:30:07 am

BEIJING: China appointed yesterday a loyal ally of President Hu Jintao to become propaganda minister and promoted one of its most senior female leaders to Communist Party chief of the northern port city of Tianjin.

The new propaganda minister, Liu Qibao, formerly the party boss of southwestern Sichuan province, replaces Liu Yunshan, who was last week raised to the Standing Committee following a once-every-five-year party congress that unveiled a generational leadership change. 

While media-savvy, Liu is unlikely to loosen media controls as China’s leaders, nervous about stability and the need to ensure one-party rule, are likely to keep domestic media on a short leash and clamp down on China’s increasingly unruly Internet, which has over 500m users.

The brief Xinhua announcement confirmed a Reuters report in October that said Liu Qibao was tipped to replace Liu Yunshan. The two are not related despite sharing a surname. 

According to an official biography, he comes from a poor background and rose to the upper echelons of the party through Hu’s powerbase of the Communist Youth League.

As propaganda minister, Liu will have to instil confidence in the party and its policies and ensure a monopoly on the flow of information, something which is becoming harder in modern, wired China, with web sites and several feisty new publications straining at the leash to uncover corruption and abuse of power. 

Liu will be in charge of disseminating official policy and viewpoints as well as trying to combat rumours spread by the growing lack of public trust in mainstream state-run media’s often mundane and occasionally dubious reporting.

Unusually for a senior Chinese official, he has engaged with ordinary people via online questions and used the popular Twitter-like microblog Sina Weibo to send messages. 

But he has taken a hardline approach to tackling a surge of self-immolations and protests in restive ethnic Tibetan parts of the province, and has locked up some dissidents.

In a separate announcement, Xinhua said that Sun Chunlan, 62, will move to Tianjin, which the government is trying to turn into a global financial centre, from the southeastern coastal province of Fujian, where she had been party boss since 2009.

Sun is one of only two women on the Politburo, a 25-member body that is a mix of military and civilian leaders which reports to the party’s elite decision-making core, the seven-man Standing Committee. She replaces Zhang Gaoli, who was also raised to the Standing Committee.

Sun worked her way up through various factory jobs in China’s northeastern industrial heartland.