Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Shifts in Chinese Coverage of the Trade War Amid COVID-19
Shifts in Chinese Coverage of the Trade War Amid COVID-19

Shifts in Chinese Coverage of the Trade War Amid COVID-19

April 17, 2020

Post by Taylor Long

Since 2018, the U.S. and China have been battling in an ongoing trade war that has impacted not just the American and Chinese economies, but the global economy at large. Chinese state media pushes anti-U.S. narratives heavily in its coverage of the trade war and asserts that the economic tensions create negative repercussions for all, including the U.S. However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, trade war coverage by China’s Global Times has changed.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the trade war was the main topic of Global Time’s coverage about the U.S. Articles mostly focused on two themes: ending the trade war to benefit both the U.S. and China, and the trade war’s negative impact on the U.S. economy, especially manufacturers and consumers. China often pointed to the benefits of economic cooperation and claimed China was willing to play fair in order to end the war, painting America as responsible for continued tensions. 

Since COVID-19, Global Times coverage on the trade war has not only decreased, but the narratives themselves have changed, the most significant change in Global Times coverage being the alleged power shift in the bilateral relationship. In many of the articles about the trade war amid COVID-19, the Global Times expresses China’s growing dominance in the global economy and asserts new control over the trade war as the U.S. faces a time of significant turmoil. The Global Times attributes China’s new upper hand to the declining US economy, President Trump’s failure to prepare for the virus, and China’s progress dealing with its own outbreak. Trump is portrayed as dependent on China in combating COVID-19 and threatens to strike back if the U.S. increases tariffs. While Chinese media promises to continue with the “Phase One” trade deal that was signed in January, it declares China will have more control in Phase Two. Finally, the Global Times suggests U.S. industries are turning against Trump as well, with businesses urging Trump to remove all tariffs and end the war.

Although there have been notable shifts in the Global Times’s coverage of the trade war during the COVID-19 outbreak, the outlet has sustained some of its previous narratives. As the outbreak turned into a global pandemic, the Global Times continued to target Trump and his administration for ruining the U.S.-China relationship, particularly after Trump’s reference to COVID-19 as “Chinese virus.” The Global Times continues to revisit calls for economic cooperation. And as COVID-19 continues to create upheaval in the U.S., China will likely continue to portray America as the antagonist in the trade war, attempting to lay blame for tensions with China on Trump and portray his policy as an obstacle in halting the progress against the outbreak.