Xi promotes Communist Party youth wing ahead of key congress

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday promoted the role of the ruling Communist Party’s youth wing ahead of a key party congress later this year that comes amid mounting economic and social pressures.

Addressing a meeting marking the 100th anniversary of the Communist Youth League of China, Xi said the body must “always be a leading force in mobilizing China’s youth in a continuous effort.”

Despite strict anti-virus measures in the Chinese capital, the event saw hundreds of masked participants gather at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.

While drawing heavily on traditional political formulas, Xi’s speech dodged controversial issues, including expectations that he will seek a third five-year term as party leader in congress later this year.

Although the party’s rule remains unchallenged among the youth, it faces a variety of economic and social challenges and has increasingly appealed to extreme nationalism to rally support.

This year especially, China’s economy has taken a beating related to lockdowns and other disruptions caused by the government’s insistence on a hard-line “zero-COVID” policy. That has increased labor pressures, particularly on the country’s 11 million new college graduates, along with an estimated 280 million migrant workers, many of them young from the countryside.

The implementation of the policy in Shanghai, China’s largest city, which included tightening lockdowns even as the number of COVID-19 cases fell, has drawn the ire of authorities, leading to rare acts of challenge posted online.

China is also facing a demographic crisis attributed in large part to the old one-child policy that used harsh measures to reduce the birth rate and left China with some 35 million more men than women. The end of the policy and official encouragement for couples to have more children have failed to halt the decline, with marriages and births at lows not seen in decades.

It was unclear what specific role Xi envisions for the 73 million-member organization in meeting such challenges, other than instilling loyalty to the ruling party.

In his speech, he called on members to “build firm beliefs and increase their courage and skills to carry out struggles,” saying that they should be “patriotic and innovative, not fooled or intimidated by difficulties.”

“Unswervingly following the party and fighting for the party and the people is the original mission of the Communist Youth League,” Xi said.

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