China’s state media has responded to a US decision to raise tariffs on Chinese goods with a barrage of nationalist commentary, escalating official rhetoric in what analysts say is a bid to bolster home support for a protracted fight with Washington.
The renminbi suffered its worst one-day drop since August last year on Monday after the bitter trade dispute between the world’s largest economies escalated over the weekend when the latest round of talks in Washington ended without a deal.
The US on Friday raised tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods from 10 per cent to 25 per cent after stating that China had “reneged” on previous agreements made during the talks. US President Donald Trump also instructed US trade representative Robert Lighthizer to impose 25 per cent tariffs on a further $300bn of goods if there was no breakthrough in talks.
China hit back on Monday with higher tariffs on $60bn of US goods, ranging from liquefied natural gas to toothpaste, defying warnings from Mr Trump and sparking the biggest fall in US markets since January.
China’s tariff announcement was accompanied by a volley of coverage from official Chinese media that played up Beijing’s readiness for battle and stoked a nationalistic fervour on Chinese social media.
A fiery dispatch on state broadcaster CCTV’s evening news programme went viral on Weibo, China’s largest social media platform, on Monday night and a hashtag for the clip had been viewed more than 3bn times by Tuesday.
“After 5000 years of trials and tribulations, what kind of battle have the Chinese people not been through?” anchor Rui Ping said. “The US-started trade war against China is not more than an important unifying juncture in China’s development. There’s nothing to worry about. China must stand firm, be confident and rise through hardships.”
Patriotic users on the heavily censored platform, which also curates content in line with government propaganda directives, flocked to voice support of the CCTV video.
“This section gave me goosebumps,” one user said. “That’s the demeanour of a great nation,” wrote another.
“Talks, OK! Fight, to the finish! Try to cheat us, that’s deluded!”, a trending post from the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper read.
Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based political analyst and former editor at an official Communist Party publication, said that the coverage was both a show of strength and an attempt to calm the business community concerned about China’s economy.
“The official media definitely wants to ignite the patriotism of regular people but they also want to target the concerns in the middle class,” he said. “Many people have been pessimistic about the continued war. The government is trying to improve sentiment by showing that they are fully prepared.”
China’s top leaders often try to chart a course between its increasingly cosmopolitan middle class and strains of hardline nationalists who still view the west, and the US in particular, as attempting to contain China and thwart its global rise.
While Chinese foreign ministry officials often publicly call for “restraint” and “respect” in the dispute, they also have to deal with a group of military hawks and radical conservatives, many of whom draw inspiration from Mao Zedong-era policies of antagonism with the West.
“Washington was betting on overwhelming China with a single blow; it didn’t realise that the China-US trade war could become a war of attrition,” Hu Xijin, the popular firebrand editor of nationalist tabloid the Global Times, wrote on Weibo.
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