China's leaders have adopted a directive aimed at maintaining "security" and expanding the "influence" of Chinese culture, state media said Tuesday at the end of an annual meeting of Communist Party chiefs.
The country will strive to improve its citizens' "sense of identity and confidence in Chinese culture," according to a statement issued after the end of the secretive four-day plenum in Beijing, as quoted by Xinhua news agency.
China was facing a challenge to protect "cultural security" and enhance its "soft power and the international influence of its own culture," the statement said.
Analysts say the meeting was largely aimed at strengthening the party's tight control over the media and the Internet.
President Hu Jintao, the party's general secretary, delivered an "important speech" at the plenum which approved a document stating that "China's cultural industry will play a more critical part in the country's economic and social development," Xinhua said.
With more than half a billion Internet users and over 200 million users of microblogging sites, authorities are increasingly concerned about the power of the Internet to influence public opinion in a country that maintains tight controls over its traditional media outlets.
"The reform of the cultural system has to do with ensuring that the media, publications, movies, Internet, et cetera serve the party’s goal of galvanising patriotic and nationalistic sentiments," said Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"This will mean even tighter control over people’s freedom of expression, especially on the Internet."
It was the senior party leaders' last annual meeting ahead of a generational change in leadership next year.
The annual meeting of China's Communist Party -- the largest political party in the world with more than 80 million members -- is held behind closed doors at a secret location in the capital.
Xinhua said the 18th national congress of the Communist Party, where China's next leaders will be confirmed, would be held in Beijing in the second half of 2012.
This year's plenum came as Hu prepares to end his second five-year term as party head next year, before stepping down as president in 2013.
Premier Wen Jiabao and his government will also resign in 2013 and analysts have said this week's meeting would provide one of the last opportunities for the exiting regime to leave its mark on the direction of the party.
Vice President Xi Jinping is widely expected to take over Hu's posts as head of the party and head of state, while Vice Premier Li Keqiang is tagged to be the next prime minister.
But the allocation of other positions within the party and government are still the subject of power struggles at the highest levels, analysts said.