In recent days, the government has issued two new travel alerts for citizens heading to the US, while state media has ratcheted up its fiery anti-American rhetoric. It is latest indication of Beijing digging in for a prolonged trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
The administration of US President Donald Trump raised tariffs from 10% to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on May 10, and later threatened Chinese technology giant Huawei with a potential export ban.
In response, China increased tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods last Saturday and has pledged to launch other “necessary countermeasures.”
On Tuesday, China’s Culture and Tourism Ministry warned its citizens of the risks of traveling to the US in an alert, citing frequent recent cases of “shooting, robbery and theft.”
On the same day, the country’s Foreign Ministry — along with China’s embassy and consulates in the US — issued a security alert for Chinese citizens, alleging “repeated harassment” of Chinese nationals in the US by local law enforcement officials.
Both notices advise Chinese citizens to “raise safety awareness” in the US, and came shortly after an Education Ministry alert on Monday that warned Chinese students and scholars of the perils of studying in the US due to growing visa issues.
‘Enemy of the world’
The new travel advice did not come in isolation.
China’s ruling Communist Party has launched a trade war propaganda campaign, with recent efforts — delivered via state media — focusing on US “trade bullying” and “hegemony.” In one noteworthy article, published Tuesday in party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, the US was labeled the “enemy of the world.”
While scathing anti-US editorials and commentaries quote everyone from French President Emmanuel Macron to 18th-century philosopher Adam Smith, state media has also begun to reference a very specific and bloody battle between US and Chinese forces during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Little known in the West, the 1952 battle of Triangle Hill — or Shangganling in Chinese — has been glorified in China for decades as a turning point in the war when the Chinese soldiers’ endurance and sacrifice led to the “defeat” of American invaders.
Although casualty figures remain in dispute, both the Chinese military and the US-led UN forces suffered thousands of deaths after more than 40 days of intense fighting. In Chinese articles, textbooks and movies, however, the outgunned Chinese soldiers emerged as the undisputed victors.
“The US military paid such a heavy price … that Triangle Hill became their ‘Heartbreak Hill,'” said a commentary posted Monday on Chinese social media by an account under the country’s cyberspace authority. “It was a watershed moment when the world recognized (the strength) of China and its military.”
Claiming the decades-old Chinese movie of the battle was enjoying a surging popularity, the online post contained a video interview with a veteran from the combat, calling her the “backbone of New China.”
State broadcaster CCTV has also been airing an old documentary series titled “The Great War to Resist the US and Aid North Korea,” complete with historical footage and patriotic narration.
In a lengthy commentary published Wednesday in the party’s Study Times newspaper, the author reviewed US-China negotiations during the Korean War and left little doubt on the intention of the article.
“Over two years of negotiations has shown the world: What the US government failed to obtain at the negotiating table, they still failed to obtain though the use of warplanes and cannons,” he said.
Stay calm and rational
Some China watchers are skeptical that Beijing’s hardened media strategy will yield positive results.
“Does the Chinese side think they can use increasingly vitriolic propaganda for domestic purposes without also angering the Trump administration and even further reducing the prospects for a near-term return to negotiations?” Bill Bishop, who publishes the popular online China newsletter Sinocism, wrote to his readers on Wednesday.
Even before Beijing issued the new travel alerts, US government statistics showed Chinese visitors to the US fell more than 5% to 2.99 million in 2018, when the year-long trade war began, marking the first annual decline in Chinese travel to the US in 15 years.
And of all international students studying at American universities, who contributed $39 billion to the US economy in the 2017-18 academic year, more than a third came from China, according to New York-based NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
With the latest warning from the Education Ministry, some analysts are already predicting a drop in Chinese students attending US universities, while others say much of the anxiety and panic is overblown.
“I can’t speculate on what each government is thinking or may do, but I don’t see any of (the US visa issues) across hundreds of our students,” said Tomer Rothschild, co-founder of Elite Schools of China, an educational consultancy in Beijing that helps about 150 Chinese students enroll in top American universities every year.
“I tell the parents to stay rational and stay calm,” he said.