Beijing Hardliners Again Set the Tone for G20 by Harshly Rebutting Opponents

June 28, 2019 Updated: June 28, 2019

China’s top newspaper, People’s Daily, reiterated Beijing’s hardline stance in the U.S.-China trade relationship by publishing six commentaries on six consecutive days from June 17 to 22. In addition to criticizing those who wish to compromise with the United States, the articles also refute the argument that China should keep a low profile to avoid being a target in the international community.

Although all six articles are short, they have a tough and sarcastic tone, all titles are in the form of rhetorical questions, and they repeatedly use strong rhetorical questions in the text.

Patriotism and National Strength

Previously, another propaganda series by Chinese state media implied there was infighting in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) between two factions—”doves” and “hawks.” The doves blame the hawks for advocating “extreme nationalism,” and the hawks attack the doves for being “capitulators.”

Similarly, in this round of propaganda, four of the six articles focus on patriotism and national strength. The doves are described as a group of people who either blindly admire the United States or are intimidated by the United States. They are harshly criticized for cowardice, lacking the spirit of patriotism, and having little confidence in China’s ability to withstand economic challenges.

By emphasizing patriotism and boasting of China’s national strength, the commentaries naturally conclude that China must not and need not make any concessions in the trade talks.

Disputes on “Low Profile” or “High Profile”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping once proposed the ideas of “hide our strength, keep a low profile, and take some action but do not attempt to take the lead,” as the guiding principles for China’s foreign relations.

Amid the escalating trade tension between the United States and China, some frustrated Chinese politicians recently blamed the Xi administration for having invited the trouble by showing off China’s economic growth, science and technology development, and military advancement. Specifically, they pointed fingers at a number of development plans with high-profile publicity, such as “Made in China 2025,” “Thousand Talents Program,” and a TV series called “My Motherland, How Awesome You Are!”

The remaining two articles in the People’s Daily’s commentary series addressed this topic and firmly refuted their argument.

“A group of people believe that if China continues to keep a low profile and grow our strength secretly, respect the leadership role of the United States (in the world), and never intend to challenge its leadership position, China and the United States will be able to get along and both sides will be happy.” One of the articles wrote, “How absurd it is! Those who make such statement are truly muddle-headed, yet they are able to confuse the public.“

Another commentary went one step further to imply that it is time for China to become a high-profile nation in the international arena.

“Isn’t it a fact that China is now an awesome country?… Chinese people have been bullied by imperialist countries for so long, when they witness China’s glorious achievements today, isn’t it simply natural for them to exclaim ‘my motherland, how awesome you are’? China can be likened to a big elephant. If this elephant hides itself inside a bush and tells the world, ‘I am not a super-power, don’t cast your eyes on me,’ is that realistic?”

The article quoted a statement by former Chinese dictator Mao Zedong who said, “The United States imperialism is not a big deal. There is nothing to be afraid of (when confronting it.)”

Different Voices Within Beijing’s Top Leadership

Apparently, Beijing’s doves don’t have a voice in Chinese state media, but they have made speeches on some occasions that are contrary to the hawkish propaganda.

For instance, according to an online news announcement from Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Liu He, Chinese Vice Premier and head of Chinese trade delegation, went to the CAS on June 21 and instructed the CAS leaders to advocate a “solid, focused, low-key” work attitude, which is just the opposite of the “high-profile” argument in science and technology development spouted in People’s Daily.

Wang Yang, the fourth-most-powerful Chinese politician, also commented on the trade dispute that diverged greatly from China’s harsh propaganda. While speaking to a Taiwan delegation visiting mainland China, Wang said China “will be educated and trained during the process of the U.S.-China trade dispute,” and the trade war will “force China to innovate,” according to a June 4 report by Taiwanese publication China Times.

Wang Yang is part of the 7-member Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful decision-making body. He is known for holding more liberal views within the Party.