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Trade war

China urges public to think patriotically and resist US

Communist Party walks fine line by fanning anti-American sentiment

A boy wearing a "USA" T-shirt waves a Chinese flag in Beijing. It is unclear whether younger generations will heed the government's calls for greater patriotism.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China is stirring up nationalistic sentiment among its citizens as the trade war with Washington escalates further, a risky strategy that could help unite the country or spiral out of control.

Since Thursday, state broadcaster China Central Television has been switching out regular prime-time programming on one of its channels for a Korean War movie. The change is believed to have been specifically requested by the Communist Party.

China sent its own forces to the Korean Peninsula during the war to support North Korea against the Americans. State media recently drew a parallel between the situation and current tensions on trade, arguing that Beijing was negotiating for a cease-fire with Washington for two out of the three years of all-out war.

"Washington ignited the trade frictions at an excuse of seeking 'fair trade,' but it's absurd that in the whole talks, it turned a blind eye to the logic that a fair trade should be bi-directional," an opinion piece this month in the People's Daily party mouthpiece said. The state-run Xinhua News Agency has also repeatedly criticized U.S. moves.

Meanwhile, China appears to be backsliding on forced technology transfers into the country. In April, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Beijing had finally acknowledged American concerns.

Yet a recent People's Daily opinion piece said that "many foreign enterprises have conducted technological cooperation with China for their own interests," calling it a "totally market-oriented practice from which the foreign companies have achieved rich profits."

The Chinese government is also extending support to Huawei Technologies, which the U.S. has essentially blacklisted over national security concerns. A pharmaceutical manufacturer in Jiangsu Province said Monday that it will choose Huawei products as a general rule when buying new mobile phones and similar equipment. Employees will receive a 500 yuan ($72) allowance for switching from a foreign-brand phone to a Huawei.

As the People's Republic of China gears up for its 70th anniversary in October, the Communist Party and the government have called on TV and radio stations to play the national anthem at 7 a.m. every day.

But whether younger generations, more exposed to the outside world, will respond to calls for patriotism is unclear. A recent viral screenshot from the Commerce Ministry website showed technology transfer requirements for foreign companies involved in construction on the Three Gorges Dam, undermining Beijing's claims that such transfers are voluntary.

Certain online outlets also reported Monday that the U.S. and China reached a cease-fire in their trade war, citing Xinhua. But the actual Xinhua article was from May 2018. Monday's reports were taken down almost immediately, and Xinhua issued a statement saying fake news will be punished by law. There is speculation that the new articles were released by people wanting an agreement.

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