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Trade war

China employs social media in trade tussle with US

Dispute perceived online as a challenge to Beijing's sovereignty

China's netizens have been vocal in their criticism of the U.S. amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington.    © Reuters

SHANGHAI -- China has taken its trade war with the U.S. online, with official media ramping up aggressive language against Washington as bilateral relations hit a new level of uncertainty.

A primetime news clip aired on Monday evening on state television CCTV has been circulated widely on social media. It echoed the official stance that China was an unwilling partner in the trade war but was also not afraid to fight.

"After going through over 5,000 years of ups and downs as a nation, what kind of battle have we not seen," said the male newscaster seriously. The 90-second clip on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, gained over 74 million views in 12 hours and was widely disseminated among netizens.

In a response, one Weibo user by the name of Ray wrote: "Though we may have family quarrels but the enemy is at the door front now. We surely need to deal with it now as a family."

Another Weibo post by the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, was also a hit with social media users. It read: "If you want to talk, we can talk. If you want to fight, we will fight. If you want to bully, it is wishful of you."

China on Tuesday reiterated its reluctance to be drawn into the tit-for-tat dispute with the U.S. "We urge the U.S... to assess the losses to its national interest... return to the right path and work with China to achieve a win-win agreement," Geng Shuang, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters.

On Monday, Beijing raised tariffs on $60 billion worth of imports from the U.S., affecting 5,000 items including foods, chemicals and auto parts. The retaliation, which takes effect on June 1, came days after U.S. President Donald Trump increased import duties to 25% from 10% on $200 billion of Chinese products.

Displays of patriotism is not unusual in Chinese media, which is largely controlled by the state. Analysts said state propagandists are seizing the trade war to project strong leadership.

"The popular appeal of such rhetoric within Communist China is nothing new," said James Char, a China analyst at Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore. "But this version has clearly been allowed to be amplified since President Xi Jinping is not keen to be perceived as being impotent vis-a-vis Trump in their trade spat."

Vic Li, a political scientist at Education University of Hong Kong expects bilateral relations to remained strained as China is unlikely to accede to U.S. demands for reforms, for example, to abolish subsidies to state companies.

Such a demand, said Eurasia Group in a research note, has been perceived as a "direct and intolerable challenge to China's sovereignty."

"The possibility of a long breakdown, one that lasts even through the U.S. presidential election, has risen substantially," said the risk advisory outfit.

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