PRC-US Trade War: Different Audience, Different Message
As the Trade War began to heat up, I wrote for this website an in-depth guide explaining the intricacies of the economic conflict. At the end of the essay, I concluded, "I suspect that both sides will have to back down at some point within the next few weeks as if this continues, it could produce unsavory side effects for both respective nations…"
Wow was I wrong. The US President poured ice-cold water over hopes of a resolution to the current economic crisis. As Bloomberg reported "We'll see whether or not we keep our meeting in September," Trump said as he left the White House for a fundraiser in the Hamptons. "If we do, that's fine. If we don't, that's fine."
The quote in question referred to a possible meeting between trade delegations of the People’s Republic and the United States, a chance to escalate this hot economic conflict after the last few weeks the so-called truce between the nations have broken down and the President unilaterally impose tariffs on more goods which originate from the People’s Republic. In response, the People’s Republic is also beginning another round for like-to-like escalations.
It is evident that this “war” is risky for both nation-states as each nation is interlinked economically, but it is also critical to explore how the respective nations are portraying this economic conflict to their citizens and the world-at-large. Each tells a different perspective, molding the domestic and international narrative.
Firstly, it is important to stress the difference in how the press operates in the respective nations. The People's Republic of China is as Freedom House, an institute which reports on and promotes freedom. Yet, the press and society-at-large are subservient and controlled by an increasingly authoritarian Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of President Xi Jiping. As Freedom House stated, "The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tightening its control over the state bureaucracy, the media, online speech, religious groups, universities, businesses, and civil society associations, and it has undermined its own already modest rule-of-law reforms.”
In contrast, despite the ever-increasingly controversies on the Executive Branch's attitude to the Press Corps, the United States is considered “free.” Overall, the Freedom House report is positive praising the United States as “...arguably the world’s oldest existing democracy. Its people benefit from a vibrant political system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, robust freedom of expression and religious belief, and a wide array of other civil liberties.”
The difference between the two nations in this regard and many others is striking, however, each nation has a dual approach in how it promotes their case in this economic crisis for the ages. The Chinese Communist Party’s outward message can be ascertained by state-owned publications like the People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the People's Republic and one of the few newspapers of the People's Republic which has an English Edition.
One of the opinion pieces/editorials of the People’s Daily gives us an insight into the message which the CCP wishes to disseminate to the international community. One of the quotes from the piece which is most insightful is “By unilaterally provoking and constantly upgrading trade frictions with global countries, frequently withdrawing from international agreements and organizations, and continuing practicing protectionism and unilateralism, some US officials are maxing out their credibility in the international society and undermining the rule-based international order.”
It is clear that the Chinese Communist Party wishes to represent the actions of the Trump Administration as part of a series of actions which are irresponsible and detrimental to the international community. This assessment is further compounded by the following sentences, “Some American officials even claimed that they didn’t care at all about the negative impacts on the stock market. It’s beyond imagination that how an influential major country can be so irresponsible.”
So, if it is that the Chinese Communist Party’s message to the international community, what is the Trump Administration’s response to this accusation of being “irresponsible”?
In short, accuse the People’s Republic of the same. Whether it be statements from the President himself, his Cabinet officials or employees of the Executive Office of the Presidency like the Trade Representative, all seem to communicate one message: the People’s Republic is fully to blame for the current economic crisis and the United States is only responding appropriately and rationally.
As CNBC reported, the White House’s economic advisor said in an interview, “I think China is getting hurt significantly, much more than we are,” Kudlow said. “The American economy is very strong. Theirs is not.” This message of “we’re stronger than the People’s Republic and we can survive this economic conflict” is echoed by other Executive Department officials as well.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, it was stated: "Our farmers have been terrific, they're patriots, they support the president's dealings with China.” Again, maybe some farmers do support President Trump’s actions, however, the majority are buckling and straining under the immense economic pressure which this conflict has inflicted upon the agricultural sector in the United States.
So, on one side, we have the hypocrisy of the highest order and on the other denial of basic facts. The Chinese Communist Party seems condemns the US for being irresponsible when they themselves have had infractions with international law. For the United States’ concern, the Administration seems to be promoting a message of denial which if continued could lead to disastrous economic results.
We all know that the media has immense influence in affecting the attitude of a country’s people. As we study PRC-US Trade War, we must continue to explore how these issues are portrayed to the citizens of both countries.