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China Faces New 'Long March' as Trade War Intensifies, Xi Jinping Says
President Xi Jinping of China has called for the Chinese people to begin a modern "long march," invoking a time of hardship from the country's history as it braces for a protracted trade war with the United States.
Mr. Xi's call, made on Monday, referred to the Long March, a grueling 4,000-mile, one-year journey undertaken by Communist Party forces in 1934 as they fled the Nationalist army under Chiang Kai-shek. From there, they regrouped and eventually took control of China in 1949, making the Long March one of the party's foundational legends.
The comments appear intended to stir the spirit of the Chinese people as the Trump administration continues to press China on trade. But they also seem to acknowledge that the Chinese public could face difficult times ahead. The tariffs come as Beijing tries to lift the economy out of a slowdown, and as a variety of unrelated factors raise the prices of basic food items like pork and fruit for the average Chinese shopper.
Speaking at the site of the start of the Long March in Jiangxi Province, Mr. Xi told a crowd of cheering locals that "now there is a new long march, and we should make a new start."
He did not mention the trade war directly, and Mr. Xi has used the term "the new Long March" in speeches before to exhort officials, military officials or ordinary citizens to follow his policies. But the visit, broadcast on state-run television on Tuesday, came as tensions flare between the world's two biggest economies. Among the officials with Mr. Xi was Liu He, his chief economic adviser and top trade negotiator.
On Wednesday, Mr. Xi told another audience in Jiangxi that the country "must be conscious of the long-term and complex nature of various unfavorable factors at home and abroad, and properly prepare for the various difficult situations."
The trade war shows little sign of letting up. In the latest move, the Trump administration is considering placing a Chinese company called Hikvision on a list that would limit its ability to procure American technology like chips and software to meet its needs. The company, which provides equipment for China's growing surveillance state, said in a statement on Wednesday that it "has never in the past done any business that requires us to violate human rights."
At a daily news briefing on Wednesday, Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said, "China opposes the U.S. practice of abusing state power and arbitrarily discrediting and suppressing foreign enterprises, including Chinese enterprises."
In one of the first gestures hinting at a potential opening salvo, Mr. Xi on Monday visited a rare earths mine in the city of Ganzhou, which some observers saw as an attempt to remind Mr. Trump of the leverage that China has when it comes to certain resources. Rare earths are found in many of the electronics that the world uses every day, and China is the largest source. China has used its control of rare earths to exert pressure before, most notably in 2010 when it halted all exports to Japan for two months over a territorial dispute.
Mr. Xi later called on the industry to continue to "intensify efforts" to develop rare earths, calling them a "strategic resource." At a media briefing on Wednesday, officials told reporters not to read too much into the visit, adding that it was a routine visit.
The Chinese state media has ratcheted up nationalistic rhetoric in the past few days, comparing the trade war to the Korean War, during which Chinese troops were in direct combat with American forces. Over the weekend, China's national movie channel, CCTV-6, ran back-to-back films about the Korean War, saying that the footage was "echoing present times."
The central point of those films is that "there's no equal negotiation without fighting," Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, a newspaper owned by the Communist Party, wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
China in the past has successfully rallied its people to target businesses owned by Japanese and South Korean companies during disputes with those countries. With the trade war with the United States, China has to move more carefully. American products are often made in Chinese factories, and China needs its consumers to keep spending as it tries to turn around its growth slump.
Chinese consumers also have more immediate concerns. Even as the economic slowdown appeared to be stabilizing, certain living costs have risen steeply.
A vicious African swine fever that swept across China has led to more than a million pigs being culled, driving up the price of pork. A steep increase in the price of vegetables and fruit has led many people to complain online that they no longer have "fruit freedom" -- the ability to buy as much fruit as they like.
"Everyone has personally felt a rise in prices," said Zhang Lifan, a historian and former businessman.
"Normal people will have to bear the consequences of the Chinese trade war. There is no way to fight this, and the new Long March is not sustainable," Mr. Zhang said.
For people like Xu Jifeng, who works for an American telecommunications company in Beijing, the back and forth between China and the United States has little bearing on his day-to-day life. He said he would most likely choose a Huawei phone over an Apple phone the next time he needs to upgrade. But he was more interested in talking about the rising cost of produce.
Mr. Xu, 44, said the price of a watermelon has gone up by more than a dollar.
"I think this reflects the bad overall state of the economy," Mr. Xu said. "The government says it's just temporary and that they will keep it under control."
"But coming at the same time as these China-U.S. trade frictions, I think fruit prices must be showing the effects."
In April, the price of pork jumped 14 percent compared with a year earlier, while the broader food consumer price inflation rose 6.1 percent, according to government statistics. By the end of last week, the average price of a basket of fruit had hit a nearly five-year high of $1.10 a kilogram, according to official statistics.
So many people online were talking about the rising costs of fruit that #fruitfreedom became a top trending topic on Weibo, China's most popular social media site.
The National Bureau of Statistics blamed the weather, and said that the price increase was short-term. "The price increase of fresh fruits will not continue to be high," a spokeswoman for the bureau said.
People have responded online by posting photographs of fruit with commentary about how much less they can afford. One woman complained that her usual haul of fruit from the supermarket was costing her nearly as much as she would pay for a new lipstick.
One person wrote on Weibo, "Now the price of fruit is really more expensive than meat. From now on, when I eat apples, I don't dare to peel the skin, not even spit out the seeds."
Another asked "Where is fruit freedom? All I can achieve is cold water freedom."
[Source: By Alexandra Stevenson, The New York Times, Beijing, 21May19]
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
|This document has been published on 13Jun19 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|