Thu, May 16, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Trade fight with US takes a nationalist turn in China

Bloomberg

A man walks by a poster depicting US President Donald Trump stating that all US customers would be charged 25 percent more starting from the day the US government raised tariffs on Chinese goods on display outside a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, on Aug. 13 last year.

Photo: AP

Among China’s most surprising responses to the trade dispute has been its reluctance to use its vast state media empire to rally the home front. That has changed since US President Donald Trump’s latest tariff barrage.

In recent days, the once-banned phrase “trade war” has roared back into widespread use in Chinese media.

Meanwhile, official news outlets gave high-profile play to commentaries urging unified resistance to foreign pressure, including an editorial from the nationalist Global Times calling the trade dispute a “people’s war” and threat to all of China.

Such sentiments have found an eager audience, with a state television video vowing a “fight to the end” attracting more than 3 billion views since Monday.

The clip was the most-read piece on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Sina Weibo earlier on Tuesday.

The rhetorical shift underscores the risks that the Chinese Communist Party faces as it veers toward a more nationalistic position as the trade dispute drags on and weighs on economic growth. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), like Trump, has promised to rejuvenate his country and cannot afford to look weak in the face of foreign power.

So far, Chinese state media have sought to tamp down the kind of patriotic passions that fueled a backlash against Japanese interests when a territorial dispute flared in 2012. Even now, state media commentaries focused the blame on the US government, rather than the country as a whole.

For instance, a commentary published in the CCP’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper avoids any mention of Trump’s name and refers only to “certain people in America who brood over the so-called massive trade deficit,” said David Bandurski of the China Media Project, an independent research program affiliated with the University of Hong Kong.

The article “tries to avoid any sense of general animosity toward the US, and stresses that the American people and businesses are losing out as a result of tariffs,” Bandurski said. “Right now the messaging from the leadership through the state media is all about treading the line.”

Although increased use of the term “trade war” in official media suggests a hardening of rhetoric, some media outlets are still prohibited from using the term, a person familiar with the matter said.

The suggested alternative is “an unclear external environment,” the person said, adding that publicity authorities have directed outlets to stress the stability and resilience of the Chinese economy.

Maintaining that balance is difficult in a country where all schoolchildren are taught about the nation’s “century of humiliation” at the hands of colonial powers.

China’s top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He (劉鶴), has already found himself targeted by unflattering comparisons to the Qing Dynasty official who signed an 1895 treaty with Japan that surrendered the island of Taiwan.

That is why Liu stressed in remarks to state media after failed trade talks on Friday last week in Washington that any deal should be “balanced” to ensure the “dignity” of both nations.

The People’s Daily yesterday ran another commentary saying China would never make decisions that “give up power and humiliate the country,” a phrase used in school textbooks to describe the treaties China signed at the turn of the 20th century.

“The Chinese people’s belief in upholding the rights and dignity of the nation, their determination, is rock solid,” it said.

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