After months of keeping a lid on rhetoric, China unleashed its tightly controlled media as the trade war with the United States reignited

Beijing (AFP) - Beijing unleashed its tightly controlled media this week after keeping a lid on rhetoric for months as the trade war with Washington reignited, with fiery clips from state media ricocheting around the internet.

The spree of editorials and commentaries in China’s state media Monday and Tuesday ramped up attacks on Washington and its trade tactics, with Beijing rolling out the propaganda campaign in sync with its retaliation on US goods.

China announced Monday it would raise tariffs on $60 billion in US exports by next month, responding in kind to President Donald Trump’s decision last week to hike duties on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese merchandise.

The barrage began Monday night during state broadcaster CCTV’s primetime newscast watched across China.

“China has already given its answer: talk and the door is open, fight and we’ll fight you to the end,” an anchor read, looking directly at the camera.

“Through 5,000 years of ups and downs, what kind of battle has the Chinese nation not seen! During the great process of realising national rejuvenation, there will inevitably be difficulties, obstacles and even storms,” he read.

“China’s policy toolbox is ready and prepared for a comprehensive response.”

The clip ricocheted around the Chinese internet, trending on Twitter-like Weibo and going viral on Wechat, inviting a massive show of support from the country’s legions of netizens.

Official news agency Xinhua on Tuesday accused the United States of “using underhanded means to achieve its aim” and “downright bullying” in an editorial.

If the US thinks it “can achieve its goals with trade bullying, it is really underestimating the will and determination of the Chinese people to defend their core interests,” the editorial said.

The editor-in-chief of nationalistic daily Global Times Hu Xijin said, “For China it is the whole country and all the people who are being coerced, and for us this is a real “people’s war,” in a Monday commentary and accompanying online video.

“Previously the Chinese government always understated the trade conflict with the United States, only said this is trade friction but now the trade friction has hit to this level,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the American studies center at Renmin University.

“This is only too belatedly they’ve accepted the fact that it is a trade war,” he said.

-Downplaying tensions-

For months as American and Chinese officials faced off at the negotiating table, China’s media downplayed the trade tensions.

Propaganda directives handed out last year instructed media to play down the trade war’s effect on the stock market, refrain from whipping up public opinion, and halt mentions of Made in China 2025, an industrial policy that drew global criticism, according to China Digital Times, which publishes propaganda directives.

Last Monday China’s stock market dropped five percent after Trump announced the tariff hike on Twitter, but for hours Chinese media refrained from reporting the reason for the drop while some online comments were censored.

Since October the Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily gradually reduced mentions of “trade war” in the pages of its paper, opting instead for the less strident “trade friction”, according to a content analysis by an independent researcher shared with AFP.

This week “trade war” is again spiking, the analysis showed.

The US Trade Representative started the process of imposing new duties on about $300 billion worth of additional Chinese merchandise Monday, while Trump said he had not decided whether he would ultimately impose those levies.

The anti-American rhetoric will increase, said Shi, adding, “it is for the domestic Chinese audience – but the Chinese government will not let this kind of logic go too far and damage the prospect of continuing trade talks,” he said.

“Every time you encounter an enemy, you need to become stronger,” said one editorial widely reposted by China’s state media on Tuesday.