Sat, Aug 11, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Handling of US trade dispute causes
rift in Chinese leadership: sources

Concern in Beijing over China’s outlook is reportedly growing as critics say that Chinese propaganda has hardened the US’ position

By Ben Blanchard and Kevin Ya  /  Reuters, BEIJING

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

A growing trade war with the US is causing rifts within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with some critics saying that an overly nationalistic Chinese stance might have hardened the US position, four sources close to the government have said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) still has a firm grip on power, but an unusual surge of criticism about economic policy and how the government has handled the trade war has revealed rare cracks in the ruling CCP.

A backlash is being felt at the highest levels of the government, possibly hitting a close aide to Xi, his ideology chief and strategist, Wang Huning (王滬寧), two sources familiar with discussions in leadership circles said.

A prominent and influential academic whose views have found favor in some party quarters has also come under attack for his strident views on Chinese power.

Wang, who was the architect of the “China Dream,” Xi’s vision for the nation to become strong and prosperous, has been taken to task by the Chinese leader for crafting an excessively nationalistic image for the country, which has only provoked the US, the sources said.

“He’s in trouble for mishandling the propaganda and hyping up China too much,” said one of the sources, who has ties to China’s leadership and propaganda system.

The office of the party’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Wang and his relationship with Xi, or on whether China had erred in its messaging in the trade war.

There is a growing feeling within the Chinese government that the outlook for China has “become grim,” following the deterioration in relations between China and the US over trade, a government policy adviser said, requesting anonymity.

Those feelings are also shared by other influential voices.

“Many economists and intellectuals are upset about China’s trade war policies,” an academic at a Chinese policy think tank told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. “The overarching view is that China’s current stance has been too hardline and the leadership has clearly misjudged the situation.”

That view contrasts with the thinking at the beginning of the year of many Chinese academics who had touted China’s ability to withstand the trade row in the face of US President Donald Trump’s perceived political weakness at home.

China thought it had reached a deal with Washington in May to avoid a trade war, but was shocked when the Trump administration, in Beijing’s eyes, went back on that agreement.

“The evolution from a trade conflict to trade war has made people rethink things,” the policy adviser said. “This is seen as being related to the exaggeration of China’s strength by some Chinese institutions and scholars that have influenced the US perceptions and even domestic views.”

One official who is familiar with China’s propaganda efforts said the messaging had gone astray.

“In the trade war, the line of thinking in the propaganda has been that Trump is crazy,” the official said. “In fact, what he is scared of is us getting strong.”

Under Xi, officials have become increasingly confident in proclaiming what they see as China’s rightful place as a world leader, casting off a long-held maxim of former Chinese president Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), who said the country needed to “bide its time and hide its strength.”

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