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'Never retreat': How Chinese media is talking about trade tensions

Krystal Hu
Reporter

China’s President Xi Jinping doesn’t have a Twitter, or Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. But he has multiple channels to address the trade tension with the U.S. to Chinese people — in the form of state-run media outlets.

As President Trump lobs tweets and comments, Chinese media are using harsher language toward the U.S. Some outlets, especially those that are considered mouthpieces of the government, also grab the opportunity to build national pride among citizens by characterizing China as a victim of tariff threats that tries to fight back.

“Firmly and strongly, hit America where it hurts,” reads the headline on Friday’s People’s Daily, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. By quoting experts in China’s think tanks, the article accuses the U.S. of ignoring international trade rules and stresses the nation’s confidence about winning a “trade war.”

Here are other headlines on People’s Daily this week:

This trade war, China has the confidence to win

America’s only way to stop loss is to rein in at the brink of the precipice

The White House wants to play bigger? Who fears whom?!

Chinese President Xi Jinping walks to deliver his speech at the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 20, 2018. Picture taken with a slow shutter speed. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Playing the nationalism card

While state-run newspapers like the People’s Daily may not have a large circulation among regular Chinese readers, they play an essential role in the party’s power to frame public discussion. The editorials are considered the message from top leaders. And on the Twitter-like social media site Weibo, the hashtag “retaliate in trade war” has been used in more than 330,000 tweets.

Media coverage on the trade dispute usually carries the message that the U.S. is a bully by initiating tariffs on steel and aluminum and a 301 investigation without first bringing the issue to the World Trade Organization. Global Times, another daily Chinese tabloid newspaper known for it hawkish editorials, characterizes China as a fighter that doesn’t yield to pressure from the U.S.

“Washington probably had a hope that Beijing, like Tokyo, Seoul, or Ottawa, begged for the United States to exempt the steel and aluminum tariffs, and accepted the harsh conditions proposed by the US,” a Global Times editorial wrote on Wednesday. “However, Beijing has announced tit-for-tat reciprocal measures and resolutely fired the ‘first shot’ against pressure from the U.S. on trade.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping arrive at a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Many also see the US highlighting theft of intellectual property (IP) using Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 as part of America’s strategy to contain China’s rapid rise. When Washington released the proposed tariff list of Chinese products on Wednesday, it said some products “benefit from Chinese industrial policies, including Made in China 2025,” referring to Beijing’s plan to dominate certain industries.

“The fundamental reason [for the tariffs] is that the development of China in recent years has hit the nerves of some Americans,” according to a People’s Daily article on Friday. “Many high-tech industries in China have made great progress, and the gap between China and developed countries has gradually narrowed. We are even in the leading position in some areas. These people see [that] China grows at their cost.”

And China is telling its citizens their strong country has the ability to win a trade war.

“After the trade war has been fully launched, China will never retreat,” writes a Global Times editorial on Friday. “The unity of the whole society around the party and the government to fight and the strong will to go through hardships together is what the U.S. can’t match.”

Krystal Hu covers technology and economy for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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