We’ve reached something that approximates peak propaganda in the trade war.
For the most part, Xi kept the Party’s myriad media mouthpieces shackled while Liu He tried (and tried and tried) to come to a consensus with Bob Lighthizer and Steve Mnuchin. But Beijing’s patience ran out earlier this month after Donald Trump more than doubled tariffs on $200 billion in goods, threatened duties on another $300 billion in imports from China and, in the final insult, cut Huawei, China’s national champion, off at the knees.
Huawei’s Monty Python-esque efforts to spin the situation notwithstanding, it is not “a flesh wound”.
And so, commence the propaganda. Over the past two weeks, Chinese state media has gone medieval on Trump, whose “bandit logic” and social media balderdash may have finally met its Waterloo. The Global Times is now invoking Mao’s “People’s war“. Nobody sees any utility in taking a measured approach anymore.
Late last month, Kiron Skinner, the director of policy planning at the State Department, told an event in Washington that “this is a fight with a really different civilization and a different ideology and the United States hasn’t had that before.”
“The Soviet Union and that competition, in a way it was a fight within the Western family”, Skinner said, an apparent effort to paint Karl Marx as a kind of annoying uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. “[China] is the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian”, she added.
Anne Marie Slaughter, head of policy planning for the State Department from 2009 to 2011, told the Washington Examiner that Skinner “was offering the US-China relationship as the ‘clash of civilizations'”, an allusion to Samuel Huntington. Skinner, the Examiner says, “concurred”.
“Skinner’s embrace of the ‘clash’ thesis makes perfect sense as the foreign policy counterpart to Trump’s nativism”, Max Boot wrote for the Washington Post. “Just as Trump assumes that non-Norwegian immigrants are criminals who cannot assimilate into American society, so ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ assumes that the United States cannot peacefully coexist, much less integrate, with non-Western civilizations.”
Well, on Tuesday, the People’s Daily took issue with Skinner’s remarks too, calling the effort to cast the trade war as a “clash of civilizations” “dangerous”.
“People are familiar with such noise, having been used by the Nazis to justify their atrocities against Jews”, an irritated, indignant commentary reads. “Skinner, who is African American, should be reminded of America’s own history of racial discrimination”, the Party paper continues, adding that “people all over the world should be on high alert and should never let these kind of racist remarks go unchecked.”
It got funnier from there (assuming you think any of this is funny, of course). The Daily also said US efforts to halt the “great rejuvenation” of China will amount to “a mantis trying to stop a car with its arms.” Another People’s Daily commentary dated Tuesday begins by posing the following question:
What will happen if a driver shifts to reverse gear and hits the pedal to the floor on a busy street? The answer is obvious – a series of scratches, crashes and losses, forming a chain reaction.
The US, Chinese media says, is taking that approach to the global industrial supply chain. The title of that commentary is: “International relations will never go back to the barbarian era.” (Hint: Trump is the “barbarian”)
Still another commentary accuses Washington of pushing a false narrative regarding intellectual property theft. “The US side knows the whole trick they are playing clearly. They are just looking for a seemingly righteous guise for their unreasonable attempts”, the column reads, on the way to promising that “people” (read: Trump) who attempt to “make lies” about “the precious fruit of the persistent and painstaking hard work of the Chinese people” will “finally come to no good.”
Obviously, this all sounds highly absurd to western audiences – very nearly on par with what you’d get out of KCNA. But it speaks to how things have unraveled recently and suggests Beijing is fully prepared for the situation to get worse.
In an interview from Brussels, Zhang Ming, China’s envoy to the EU, reminded the world that China “has been holding on for 5,000 years.” “Why not another 5,000 years?”, he asked.
That’s a good question. Especially when you consider that the US is a society where attention spans are measured in seconds and the executive eschews intelligence briefings for literal flash cards.