Xi Jinping, China’s president. (Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg)

China’s Silence at G-20 Underscores Communication Challenges

(Bloomberg) -- At the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires, a top U.S. Treasury official lambasted China’s trade practices. The chief American trade representative has pressed countries to ally with the U.S. in pushing back against the Chinese in exchange for relief from American tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Chinese delegates in response, including Zhou Xiaochuan -- who stepped down as the central bank chief this week -- and Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao, have gone radio silent. There’s no war, at least, not one of words. There’re no press briefings or media interviews scheduled either in Buenos Aires. That is a contrast to Germany, Brazil, France and the U.S., whose officials actively sought press coverage to make their voice heard during the two-day meetings.

While it’s not unusual for Chinese officials to favor private lobbying and maneuvering behind the scenes, their aversion to the limelight is becoming awkward at a time when the U.S.’s public blasts on China over trade have grown. The Trump administration plans to impose tariffs worth as much as $60 billion on Chinese products as early as this week.

At home, China has not been entirely reticent. Speaking at the end of the annual National People’s Congress on Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang said that China wants to avoid a trade war, saying that the government plans to further open the manufacturing sector and won’t force foreign companies to transfer technology.

Still, the lack of a clear-cut communication strategy at the international stage may have robbed China from a chance of winning public support and sympathy.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.