China declares a ‘people’s war’ after Trump’s latest tariff hikes

Foreign Affairs

The weekend was quiet after the Trump administration hiked tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to 25 percent from 10 percent on Friday, May 10. The response from Beijing came this morning.

  • Beijing announced retaliatory measures via Xinhua (in Chinese), upping tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods. See this BBC report for details of China’s new measures.
  • Beijing’s timing was effective, with the announcement published at 9 a.m. New York time, half an hour before the American markets opened. “The escalation sent stock markets down, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing more than 600 points lower,” per the BBC.
  • A propaganda campaign also began today. The CCTV 7 p.m. evening news broadcast, the main channel used by the government to send political messages to the entire population, on May 13 featured an exhortation to the Chinese people:

For the trade war initiated by the United States, China has long indicated its attitude: it is unwilling to fight, but it is not afraid to fight… After all the 5,000 years of ups and downs of the Chinese nation, what kind of battle have we not seen? In the great process of realizing national rejuvenation, there will inevitably be difficulties, obstacles and even storms. The US-sponsored trade war with China is just a hurdle in China’s development process. It is no big deal. China will surely strengthen its confidence, overcome difficulties, turn crisis into opportunity, and fight for a new world.

…As President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 pointed out, the Chinese economy is a sea, not a small pond. A rainstorm can destroy a small pond, but it cannot harm the sea. After numerous storms, the sea is still there!

  • Chinese social media is all lit up: A clip of the CCTV harangue (in Chinese) is the most popular trending topic on Weibo, with 2.7 billion views as of this writing. Anecdotally, the clip has also populated many of my WeChat friend circles, even those groups that tend not to be nationalistic.
  • Even stronger language is found in an editorial (in Chinese) that was prominently featured by Xinhua News Agency and the People’s Daily today. Titled “The U.S. is constantly shouting arrogantly to puff itself up,” it concludes thusly:

The most important thing is that in the Sino-U.S. trade war, the American side fights because of greed and arrogance. If it does not brag and make up stories, the country’s morale will break. China is fighting back to protect its legitimate rights and interests.

…The trade war in the United States is the creation of one person and his administration who have swept along the entire population of the country. Whereas, the entire country and all the people of China are being threatened. For us, this is a real “people’s war.”

Those are fighting words. We have entered a new, unpredictable stage of the game.

What’s next?

Other aspects of U.S.-China rivalry — Huawei