Minitrue: On U.S.-China Trade Tensions

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

Propaganda notice:

First, regarding the U.S.-China :

  1. Three "Don’t Relays": Don’t relay comments from Trump, from U.S. government spokespersons, or from U.S. officials. Don’t relay U.S. news reports or commentary on the trade conflict without waiting for response from the Ministry of Commerce.

  2. The China Securities Regulatory Commission will soon organize experts to lead the chorus in stabilizing market expectations. The next step will be for the People’s Bank of China to take to the stage with substantive policy moves to boost high-quality economic development.

  3. [Vice Premier] Liu He has indicated that this stage of the U.S.-China trade conflict requires calm and rationality. Each department should strengthen its contribution to the stabilization of market expectations. We stop negotiation for now, acting tit for tat, roll out corresponding policies, hold public opinion at a good level without escalating it, limit scope, and strike accurately and carefully, splitting apart different domestic groups in US. The trade conflict is really a war against China’s rise, to see who has the greater stamina. This is absolutely no time for irresolution or reticence.

  4. Don’t attack Trump’s vulgarity; don’t make this a war of insults.

  5. Note different implementation stages in the breakdown of the [U.S. tariffs on Chinese exports worth] US$50 billion: levies on the $34 billion from July 6 are highly likely to happen. Levies on the remaining $16 billion will be considered on July 13, and take effect at the beginning of August, if approved.

  6. All media should prepare well for protracted conflict. Don’t follow the American sides’ fluctuating declarations. Play down the correlations between the stock market and trade conflict.

Second, other matters:

  1. Give prominence to reports on economic bright spots and developments, showing our economy’s prospects for continued steady improvement. Emphasize economic reports using important page placement and timing. Interview experts recommended by each department; websites and Weibo and WeChat accounts must emphasize suitable forms of network propaganda.

  2. To re-emphasize: do not make further use of " 2025," or there will be consequences. (June 29) [Chinese]

The New York Times’ Raymond Zhong and Li Yuan reported word of trade-related censorship on Tuesday:

As Washington and Beijing spar over trade, news outlets here have been ordered not to mention Made in China 2025, an industrial master plan that aims to turn the country into a high-tech superpower, according to two people at Chinese news organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the censorship authorities’ secretive workings.

[…] Even before the latest orders, however, the media coverage in China of the recent economic tensions with the has been largely free of nationalistic or inflammatory language. Absent official guidance against covering certain issues, Chinese media organizations often self-censor, wary of drawing the ire of authorities.

[…] China’s leaders might not want the domestic media to whip up excessive public outrage, lest it constrain their ability to negotiate with Washington.

“These days, restrictions on information by the Chinese Communist Party are predominantly strategic and contextual, and not ideological or necessarily about judgments of the intrinsic sensitivity of a story or topic,” said David Bandurski, who is a co-director of the China Media Project, a research program in Hong Kong, and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

“That means just about any story, fact or image can instantly become sensitive given the right extrinsic factors, like too much online attention and speculation,” Mr. Bandurski said. [Source]

Reuters had previously reported that "state news agency Xinhua, which made more than 140 mentions of Made in China 2025 in Chinese language news items in the first five months of the year, has not done so since June 5, a search of a public database found." "Three state media journalists told Reuters they had been instructed not to use the term Made in China 2025," it added, although "two others said they received no such instructions."

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the Trump administration was planning strict controls on technology investment from and exports to China in order to counter the Made in China 2025 program. These measures were later reportedly softened, according to The Washington Post, "after a bruising internal battle between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and China hard-liners led by Peter Navarro, a senior White House aide." Commentators quoted by the Post variously described the inconsistency as "confusing," "sloppy," and "chaotic."

Similarly mixed signals have emanated from Beijing. The Wall Street Journal’s Lingling Wei and Yoko Kubota reported this week that Xi Jinping had promised "a bare-knuckle approach that makes a bruising fight more likely":

After President raised the ante last week on punitive tariffs against Chinese products, Mr. Xi told a group of 20 mostly American and European multinational chief executives on Thursday that Beijing plans to strike back, according to people briefed on the event.

“In the West you have the notion that if somebody hits you on the left cheek, you turn the other cheek,” the Chinese leader said, according to the people. “In our culture we punch back.”

[…] “China is not going to yield to outside pressure and eat the bitter fruit,” a senior official said. “That’s the negotiation principle set by President Xi.” [Source]

Bloomberg News, though, reported that some Chinese academics and officials believe that such an aggressive strategy may be overreaching:

In recent weeks, prominent academics have begun to question if China’s slowing, trade-dependent economy can withstand a sustained attack from Trump, which has already started to weigh on stock prices. The sentiments are being expressed in carefully worded essays circulated on China’s heavily censored internet and — according to interviews in recent days with ministry officials and foreign diplomats who asked not to be identified — repeated in the halls of government offices, too.

[…] The risk is that the two sides, having misjudged each other’s intentions, find themselves in an escalating series of attacks and counterattacks. Xi, like Trump, is a nationalistic leader who has emphasized his strength and decisiveness and can’t afford to look weak in a confrontation with China’s biggest rival.

[…] Xi has a lot at stake personally. He cast aside former leader Deng Xiaoping’s maxim to “hide” China’s strength and “bide” its time, and last year outlined a vision to complete China’s rise as a global power by 2050. That included building a “world-class” military and boosting clout through his Belt-and-Road Initiative to finance infrastructure from Asia to Europe and beyond. Presidential term limits were also removed, allowing him to rule indefinitely.

[…] “Has China completed the task of ‘getting rich’? Has China completed the primary stage of socialism as Deng Xiaoping described? Can you begin to compete directly with the United States and other Western countries?” [Shanghai University of Finance and Economics’ Yu Zhi] wrote. “China should rethink its general strategic direction.” [Source]

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.