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 rising economic and social pressures.
Addressing a meeting marking the centenary of the Communist Youth League of China, Xi said the body should "always be a vanguard force in mobilizing China’s youth in continuous endeavor."
Despite strict anti-virus measures in the Chinese capital, the event saw hundreds of masked participants gathered at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.
While relying heavily on traditional political formulas, Xi’s speech skirted controversial issues, including expectations he will seek a third five-year term as party leader at the congress later this year.
Although the party's rule remains unchallenged among young people, it faces a range of economic and social challenges and has increasingly appealed to extreme nationalism to rally support.
This year especially, China’s economy has taken a battering linked to lockdowns and other disruptions brought about by the governments insistence on a hard-line "zero-COVID" policy. That has increased employment pressures, particularly on the country’s 11 million new college graduates, along with the roughly 280 million migrant workers, many of them young people from the countryside.
The implementation of the policy in China's largest city Shanghai, which included tightening lockdowns even as the number of COVID-19 cases fell, has sparked anger at authorities, leading to rare acts of defiance posted online.
China also faces a demographic crunch blamed largely on the former one-child policy that employed severe measures to drive down the birthrate and left China with about 35 million more men than women. The end of the policy and official encouragement for couples to have additional children have failed to stem the decline, with marriages and births hitting lows not seen in decades.
It wasn't clear what specific role Xi envisions for the 73 million-member organization in facing such challenges, other than to inculcate loyalty to the ruling party.
In his speech, he called on members to "build up firm beliefs, and boost their courage and skills to carry out struggles," saying they should be "patriotic and innovative, while not being misguided or intimidated by difficulties."
"Unswervingly following the party and striving for the party and the people is the original mission of the Communist Youth League," Xi said.