China’s New President Works to Rebrand the Communist Party

Xi Jinping (courtesy of the Telegraph)Last year we wrote about the Chinese government’s “censor and deny” approach to damage control after a New York Times story about the considerable wealth of prime minister and supposed “man of the people” Wen Jibao threatened to damage his political fortunes. Here’s an even more interesting story on the role of PR in Chinese politics–and this is legitimate public relations, not the underground blackmail and bribery industry.

As expected, former VP Xi Jinping officially assumed the presidency after receiving a ridiculous 99.8% of the vote in The People’s Congress. Xi posed as a reformer, and his primary goal is to convince the growing number of Chinese citizens who aren’t happy with their government that his administration is more concerned with improving quality of life than lining its own pockets.

In order to do this, he’s taking some steps right out of the political PR playbook that will look familiar to anyone who has suffered through an American presidential campaign.

  • He demonstrated an unusual degree of deference to the media by apologizing for keeping reporters waiting. This is a rare event in Chinese politics, where the media has little power.
  • He also claimed that he would not punish journalists who refuse to follow the party line.
  • He adopted a “folksy” way of speaking to differentiate himself from other party leaders who often appear oblivious to the struggles of their less affluent constituents.
  • He launched an “anti-corruption” campaign, promoted by state media outlets, which encouraged political leaders around the country to make fewer speeches, release fewer “official” documents and presumably spend more time addressing, or at least acknowledging, the concerns of Chinese citizens.
  • He trimmed the fat that makes party events so ostentatious, demanding fewer courses at formal dinners, fewer red carpets and flashy banners, and more “charitable” visits to poor rural areas.

According to The Washington Post, the man behind this rebranding campaign is Wang Huning, the director of the Communist Party’s policy research center and a former law school professor who was expert in the art of persuasion. And yes, he learned his craft by studying Western political campaigns.

So will this rebranding effort work? Just like in American politics, the long-term success of the campaign depends on Xi Jinping making good on his promises of reform. But it’s certainly interesting to watch the leader of a Communist country try to brand himself as a reformer.

*Photo courtesy of Vincent Yu and the Associated Press