BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged the younger generation and new media professionals to join the government in an intensified push to achieve China's dream of "national rejuvenation".
In a speech to the United Front Work Department late on Wednesday, Xi said that the government would seek to improve the work of new media professionals, who should form a "patriotic united front" and encouraged them to contribute in "cleaning up cyberspace", state news agency Xinhua said.
The United Front Work Department is in charge of co-opting non-Communists, religious groups and ethnic minorities. Reuters reported last year that the department was targeting academics, students and leaders in self-ruled Taiwan in an attempt to soften opposition to China's ruling Communist Party and ultimately build support for unification.
Since Xi took over as party chief in late 2012, he has repeatedly invoked nationalistic themes to win public legitimacy as he seeks to bolster China's image in the world. Analysts say Xi realizes that one of the top challenges he faces is that China's soft power has lagged far behind its growing economic and military might.
Xi has said he aims to turn China into a "cyber power", but he has also presided over an intensifying online crackdown that has drawn criticism from rights groups and dissidents at home and abroad.
Xi's administration has waged a crackdown on online "rumor-mongering", which is widely seen as a tool to halt criticism of the party. The campaign has chilled political discourse, with high-profile bloggers saying they have reined in sensitive posts for fear of detention.
Xi said students were the "new focal point of the United Front", saying they should go abroad but return to serve the country.
"Today, the domestic economy is facing downward pressure," Xi said. "Vigorously attracting outstanding overseas talent has become an urgent national requirement."
Xi said officials should cultivate the younger generation from the "non-public economy" - government-speak for the private sector.
Xi called on officials to "step up ideological and political work" on intellectuals who do not belong to the Communist Party.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie