As trade tensions between the United States and China have escalated this week, we have seen a series of commentaries and signals from China in the state media, the most important of these appearing in the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily. Today, we have another important commentary in the newspaper, and this time it gets more real estate on the front page, as opposed to page four, where most of these statements have lingered through the week. The piece this time is from “Zhong Xuanli” (钟轩理), a moniker that marks it as coming from the Theory Division of the Central Propaganda Department.
The piece, called “There is No Force that Can Impede the Chinese People as They Stride Toward Realization of Their Dream” (没有任何力量能够阻挡中国人民实现梦想的步伐), does seem (I say cautiously) to dial up the nationalist rhetoric just a bit in comparison to previous commentaries, which emphasized the irrationality of American actions and underscored Chinese readiness to endure, whatever comes.
Just to review, we looked at the first “Zhong Sheng,” or “Voice of China,” commentary on Tuesday in this CMP post, noting that while the tone in official comments on trade tensions was resolute with a mind to projecting strength and shoring up domestic confidence, it was probably premature to characterize it as “nationalistic” as quite a number of international media seemed to be doing. The following day, we looked at the second “Zhong Sheng” commentary and related remarks on this Twitter thread, noting in particular the stress on the word “stability” as the Party again tried to project confidence. Finally, in another thread yesterday, we looked at the third “Zhong Sheng” commentary, which accused the U.S. of blowing hot and cold in trade negotiations, and painted a picture of U.S. as a quitter — “pulling out of the Paris Agreement, pulling out of UNESCO, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council.”
Today’s “Zhong Xuanli” piece is the most direct invocation yet — at least in the pages of the People’s Daily — of trade tensions with the United States as an affront and challenge to the inevitable rise of the Chinese people, and the link to Xi’s notion of the “Chinese dream” is directly there in the headline. By comparison, much previous language was abstract. Think of the way, for example, the CCTC anchor on “Xinwen Lianbo” on Monday, starting off the week of accusations, spoke of how Xi Jinping had said that China’s economy is a “great ocean,” not a pond, and while winds and storms can trouble the pond, they cannot trouble the great ocean, and so on.
The language in today’s page-one commentary reads: “In the great journey toward national rejuvenation, the Chinese people are at one in their conviction to protect the interests of our people and the dignity of the nation, our resolution firm as stone and unyielding.”
The language of national rejuvenation and dignity underscores trade tensions with the United States as a direct challenge to China’s rise. “We deeply know that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people cannot be realized gently, or with the banging of gongs and beating of drums, but requires even more formidable and even more difficult efforts,” the commentary concludes. “We firmly believe that through the centuries and millennia, the Chinese people have stored up abilities of unmatchable strength, and that no force in this world can impede the progress of the Chinese people toward realizing their dream!”
The commentary makes a series of bolded key points, including that 1) the direct cause of escalating trade tensions has been “asking of sky-high prices” by the U.S., that 2) the basic reason for trade tensions is that “the American side respects only itself,” that 3) “the trade war cannot strike China down, but can only cause us to grow stronger on the whetstone,” that 4) the trade war will not result in a cheap deal but will only damage U.S. interests, and that 5) the trade war cannot earn popular support, but will only result in greater factors of uncertainty globally. These are the principal points made in the piece as it appears on the front page of the People’s Daily, and they continue on page four.
We should also note that we have a fourth “Zhong Sheng” commentary today on page three of the People’s Daily, this one ridiculing the suggestion by Donald Trump — though once again Trump is not named — that the U.S. “rebuilt China” by extending the country unfair advantages.