Beijing says the spiralling trade war with Washington is being driven by US fears over China challenging its global hegemony, and has rejected criticism that Chinese overconfidence is fanning the tensions.
The message was delivered in a commentary in Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily on Friday, indicating the top leadership’s thinking on the dispute as they gather at coastal resort Beidaihe for an annual closed-door meeting to discuss domestic and foreign policies, including the trade war.
Taking aim at “ambiguous opinions popular online” that Beijing should cave in to Washington to avoid any escalation in the trade war, the piece said countering any country that could threaten US dominance was part of Washington’s long-term strategy.
It gave the examples of the Soviet Union and Japan, saying the same strategy had been used against them, and that the US now saw China – with its rapid economic growth and increasing global influence – as an “unprecedented opponent”.
“No matter what China does, in the eyes of the United States, China’s development has already ‘damaged the supremacy of the US’,” the commentary said.
“To tackle such an ‘opponent’, the US must adopt two methods – the first is to use the opponent for motivation and to drum up mass political support for ‘making America great again’, and the second is to contain the opponent’s supremacy at every level.”
China and the US have been locked in a tit-for-tat trade war since early last month that has shown no sign of abating. Beijing unveiled its latest retaliatory tariffs on US$16 billion of American goods on Wednesday, matching Washington’s move to slap 25 per cent duties on the same value of Chinese imports.
Beijing has repeatedly said it has been forced to react to Washington’s provocations, but there is growing criticism that exaggerated claims about the country’s strength and achievements from its propaganda machine have exacerbated the situation and hardened the US stance.
As part of a wider kickback against that propaganda, the president of Tsinghua University was even urged to sack leading academic Hu Angang – whose controversial claims include suggesting China has already overtaken the US as a world leader in terms of its economic and technological power – in an open letter from alumni.
“So for some, China is to blame because it is too confident and high profile, so it has incurred a one-two punch from the United States. Others criticise, saying China shouldn’t strike back,” the commentary said. “The meaning is that as long as China caves in, the United States will raise its hands high in mercy, and the China-US trade war won’t happen.”
It went on to say that Washington’s “hegemony-dominated mindset” had led to a misunderstanding over China’s rise and to its long-term strategy to contain Beijing in order to maintain its “absolute advantage”.
“Once China’s development is ‘exceeding’ or ‘derailing’, there will be more curbs and China will be ‘qualified’ to be the opponent of the US,” it said. “This is more prominent now as China speeds up its development.”
Beijing has said it is ready to impose tariffs on US$60 billion of American products if US President Donald Trump – who has accused China of amassing a huge trade surplus through unfair trade practices – goes ahead with plans to slap extra duties on US$200 billion of Chinese goods.
Sources said that although the two sides had held unofficial talks to try to de-escalate the tensions, the efforts were hampered by a lack of trust.
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Chinese observers said that with formal talks at a standstill, it was unlikely Beijing would take a step back from the dispute in the near future.
“To China, this is more than a simple trade war – this is a war between protectionism and globalisation, and Beijing has to, and will, defend free trade. So this trade war goes beyond China and the United States, it’s about the global economy,” said Wei Jianguo, former vice commerce minister. “This is going to be a long war … no matter whether it is Trump or someone else in office.”