China's $10B/year PR ministry mired in political fight with anti-corruption/loyalty enforcers

China's Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (in English, "Publicity Department") spends $10B/year — only part of its budget — getting the official Chinese party line into foreign news outlets, with the rest of its activity directed internally, at government communications discipline and media censorship.

However, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection — the party's enforcers for loyalty, ideological correctness, and honesty/anti-corruption — has publicly denounced the Publicity Department for its lack of "depth in its research into developing contemporary Chinese Marxism," for being "not forceful enough in co-ordinating ideological and political work at universities" and failing "to implement the principle of the party managing the media."

The Publicity Department is something of a kingmaker in Chinese politics, and is not customarily the target of this kind of public criticism.

It's not clear why the two bodies are at war. The Economist offers a few theories by way of informed speculation: one is that President Xi is unhappy that the Publicity Department is constructing a "personality cult" around him; another is that the leaders of the Publicity Department and the CCDI are playing out an old rivalry dating to their boyhoods in the Communist Youth League, where they battled over their views on "princelings" (children of ranking Communists" versus those who came up through the rank and file.

If it's the latter, it's eerily reminiscent of one theory about Brexit: that PM David Cameron and former London Mayor Boris Johnson were fighting an old battle with its origins in their Eton schoolboy days.

Leaguers are falling foul of the anti-graft campaign to an extent that can hardly be coincidental. In late May and early June, the CCDI and the country's chief prosecutors placed under investigation or indicted three allies of Vice-President Li Yuanchao, who was once one of the league's most senior figures. Just before that, a court in the northern port city of Tianjin charged Ling Jihua with bribery, after a year-long investigation by the CCDI. Mr Ling had been a senior member of the league, and had served as chief aide to Mr Hu when he was president.

The Publicity Department is fighting its corner. Earlier this year it targeted Ren Zhiqiang, an outspoken property magnate and ally of the CCDI's boss, Wang Qishan (who was his tutor in high school). Mr Ren had criticised efforts to tighten control of the media. By denouncing him, the Publicity Department could claim to be carrying out Mr Xi's policies while simultaneously attacking a friend of Mr Wang, whose commission's report was so damning.

Who draws the party line?


(Image: headquarters of Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, N509FZ, CC-BY-SA)