BEIJING (Reuters) - China will tighten restrictions on foreign and "foreign-inspired" television programs, its broadcast regulator said, in a bid to boost production of domestic shows that promote Chinese patriotism and traditions.

President Xi Jinping has embarked on an unprecedented drive to clamp down on the Internet and censor opinions that do not reflect those of Communist Party leaders, including tougher penalties for what the government calls the spread of rumors via social media.

Satellite television channels must not air more than two imported programs through the year during primetime hours from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., state news agency Xinhua said, citing the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

"Only independently innovative programs with Chinese cultural genes, characteristics and style can sustain themes of the Chinese dream, core socialist values, patriotism and outstanding Chinese cultural traditions," the regulator said, according to a Xinhua report late on Sunday.

The channels will not be allowed to broadcast programs with overseas copyright or inspired by foreign shows, such as the popular singing contest the Voice of China, without seeking approval two months in advance, it said.

Only one such new program may be broadcast every year, but not in a primetime slot in its first year. Violators face a one-year ban on broadcasting such programs, it added.

Despite government controls, foreign television shows are widely available as illegal downloads or on pirated DVDs. Many are also available legally online through distribution deals with domestic websites.

In 2013, China's General Administration for Press and Publication enforced similar orders to promote "morality-building", but it is unclear if the new rules will add to the barriers to foreign shows, or how many will be affected.

Chinese officials often trumpet cultural reforms in a bid to widen the global reach of their country's culture and arts, and boost its soft power.

Chinese media outlets have been expanding across the globe with state encouragement, aiming to offset negative images of the country that leaders feel are spread by world media.

Visiting the offices of China's main news outlets in February, Xi said media must follow the party line, uphold the correct guidance on public opinion and promote "positive propaganda".

Violators will be severely dealt with, Tian Jin, deputy head of the regulator, said in Sunday's People's Daily, the newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.

"We must resolutely stop and seriously punish those behaviors in programs that follow, and hype, heated social issues, ridicule national policy, spread wrong views, preach extreme ideas and intensify contradictions," Tian said.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)