China’s high officials replaced “trade war” with less harsh terms in open remarks

By Swordsman Linghu

 * China’s high officials replaced trade “war” with “friction” in recent days;

* Beijing has maintained restraint, despite the trade war with Washington keeps escalating

* Doors are still open for China and the US to reopen talks


Chinese diplomats have, in recent days, sneakily replaced “trade war” with less harsh terms like “trade friction” in open remarks, despite Beijing announced on Friday that it was ready to levy additional tariffs on roughly $60 billion of imports from Washington.

This change of words shows Beijing has maintained restraint, even when the trade war with Washington keeps escalating, leaving rooms for the world’s two largest economies to reopen talks.

Chinese diplomats are rather careful in the choice of words. Trade friction, difference, dispute, and problem were other less harsh terms China’s foreign ministry spokespersons normally used in routine press conferences before the trade war outbroke on Jul 6.

They used “trade war” for the first time on Jul 5, the day before its outbreak. The last time they used it, in this round of exchange of fire, was on Jul 26, the same day when US and Europe agreed on a zero-tariff deal and the latter’s decision to buy more American soybeans.

Late on Aug 3, China’s Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council announced that the new tariffs would become effective if the US escalated “trade friction”.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi shared the term when talking to the press after meetings with his counterparts from the US and the ASEAN countries.

Foreign Ministry’s daily press conference, attended mainly by foreign media outlets, is considered Chinese government’s most regular means to disseminate its views to the international society.

The ministry’s spokesperson began to used the term “trade war” on Jul 5, saying the trade friction “may even escalate to trade war” and “nobody wished to fight the trade war”.


On Jul 6,  Washington imposed the first wave of additional tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods, prompting an immediate retaliation from Beijing. It marked the formal outbreak of the trade war.

The spokesperson used “trade war” again on Jul 11, calling it as a “war” of “unilateralism vs multilateralism”, “protectionism vs free trade”, and “hegemony vs rule”. The spokesperson also added that China didn’t wish to fight the trade war, but was “not afraid”.

In this round of exchange of fire, spokesperson used “trade war” again on Jul 26, blaming Washington for “triggering the trade war” which led to harms to its own farmers.

Almost simultaneously, the US and Europe agreed on the zero-tariff deal. The latter also agreed to buy more soybeans from Washington.

On Jul 27, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson used back trade “friction” and “difference”, instead of “war”.

Yet it should be noted that China’s Ministry of Commerce has been using the term “trade war” since June. It even said harshly in an official statement on its website on Jul 6 that the US started “the biggest ever trade war in the history of economics”.

China’s attitude may look very confusing when there seems to be no consensus between the country’s key government departments.

But the writer believes this deliberate arrangement in official wording has shown China’s restraint, leaving doors open to re-open trade talks with Washington.

At the end of the day, it will be too catastrophic to the world if the trade war between Washington and Beijing runs out of control.


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