Journalists take pictures next to a mass grave in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 3, 2022. Image by manhhai available at Flickr.com under CC license.
In the sixth installment of its series of strongly-worded broadsides against the United States in the midst of the Russian war in Ukraine, the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper today threw down a new phrase, “financial terrorism” (金融恐怖主义), to refer to sanctions against Russia.
Alongside other rhetorical barbs in the commentary – including “economic hegemonism” (经济霸权主义) and “economic weaponization” (经济武器化) – the provocative phrase underscores China’s determination to divert attention from Russia’s documented atrocities in Ukraine and spin the conflict as resulting primarily from the actions of the United States and its allies.
In recent days, people across the world have been shocked to learn of the Russian atrocities in Ukraine, and United Nations chief António Guterres has joined growing calls for a war crimes investigation. But the People’s Daily commentary, “Weaponizing the Economy Will Cause Self-Harm” (将经济武器化必将反噬其身), opens by framing economic considerations resulting from Russia’s war (here minimized as the “Russia-Ukraine conflict”) as the primary concern of the global community:
At present, it has become very difficult for countries around the world to deal with the Covid-19 while preserving their economies and livelihoods. The United States has imposed a series of unilateral sanctions on Russia and threatened to force other countries to comply with America’s unilateral sanctions in disregard of global stability and the livelihood of all countries. The US act of weaponizing the economy and engaging in economic hegemony and financial terrorism has caused widespread concern in the international community and opposition and resistance from many countries.
The commentary, attributed to “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view, concludes that the US, in the name of “so-called rules,” has “damaged the international order, creating confrontation and division and seizing the opportunity for profit.” The last reference alludes to the US “military-industrial complex,” which was the subject of an April 2 “Zhong Sheng” commentary called “Who is Intentionally Perpetuating the Conflict?” (谁在有意将冲突长期化?).
The April 2 commentary was similarly scathing about the US, calling it a “hegemonic chariot of war” (霸权战车) that was “held ransom by the military-industrial complex and other interest groups,” and brought “only turmoil and harm to the world and its ordinary people.”
The only usage in the history of the People’s Daily similar to the “financial terrorism” label applied today came on September 29 last year, when the paper directly reported a statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in which he “urged the US and its Western allies to stop their application of ‘economic terrorism.’” According to China’s official Xinhua News Agency:
Mekdad said, the United States and its Western allies have applied ‘economic terrorism’ to Iran, Venezuela, Belarus, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria. Syria demands a stop to the application by the US and its Western allies of ‘economic terrorism’ according to international law and UN resolutions.
Today’s “Zhong Sheng” commentary also uses the term “economic weapons,” or jingji wuqi (经济武器), to refer to US sanctions on Russia resulting from the war, and suggests that the US has “weaponized its economic” (经济武器化). This term has a longer history in the People’s Daily, and interestingly was applied by China with a sense of moral justification to the Soviet Union in 1979, in the midst of deep bilateral tensions. China’s attack on Vietnam in February 1979 prompted a stern warning from the Soviets, which accelerated the transfer of arms to Vietnam, and border tensions between China and the USSR had rankled for a decade.
A lengthy article on March 20 that year laid out a series of aggressive moves by the USSR across the world, including in Africa and Southeast Asia, and quoted (approvingly) a news source from Thailand that said “the West should use economic weapons to stop the Soviet threat.” The People’s Daily closed with a call for concerted action quite at odds with the spirit of its actions on Russia in recent weeks:
Today, the situation requires all peace-loving countries and peoples to unite and establish a broad united front against Soviet hegemony and take effective and practical steps to jointly deal with the Soviet Union’s aggressive expansion and disrupt its global strategic deployment. Wherever the Soviet Union is aggressively expanding, stop it there. Only in this way will it be possible to stop its rampage, ease tensions, delay the outbreak of world war, and maintain world peace and security.