From Global Times to CCTV: A User’s Guide to China’s State Media
As the trade war deepens, global investors are parsing China’s newspapers and tightly censored social media accounts for clues to Beijing’s plans.
Unlike President Donald Trump, Xi Jinping’s latest thinking isn’t blasted out on Twitter or shouted to cheering supporters at rallies. And China’s ministerial press briefings are often dominated by predictable set phrases, and are not always explicit about policy plans.
That leaves traders reliant on China’s media, which has a spectrum of nationalistic tabloids, staid broadsheets, official outlets and non-official social media accounts where changes of tone to a large degree reflect the nuance of government stance on latest developments.
Here’s a guide to reading the tea leaves:
The Communist Party’s flagship newspaper. The commentaries it carries, especially those under the pen names of the Party’s own publicity department, Zhongxuanli, reflect the authoritative view and may become party lines. The paper published commentaries about the trade war almost every day for weeks after talks in Washington fell apart in May. The commentaries can be pugnacious sometimes, or in a stern tone rebutting Trump’s remarks. Readers can get free access to the day’s e-paper here. The media group does have a website in English, but it won’t always provide a timely translation on the articles in the physical paper.
Xinhua News Agency
The state-run news wire reports to the State Council, China’s cabinet. In cases where the government wants absolute control of the press, they will require all domestic media to only carry Xinhua’s report, which in essence is the government’s press release. Its commentaries also reveal the official stance. Xinhua’s articles can be found in here, and it also has an English website, but again it won’t have all the Chinese articles translated.
China Central Television, CCTV
The television channel’s prime time news program at 7 p.m. every night is all about what’s seen as important in Chinese political life. In recent shows, anchors read aggressive commentaries denouncing the U.S. trade moves and declaring that China isn’t afraid of a trade war and will fight it until the end if forced to -- some of the clips later went viral on social media. CCTV4 is a free channel that can be received globally via satellite and they have an English channel CGTN. The live feed for all of its channels is available here. It was a long time before the Chinese audience realized that the acronym used by their state-owned broadcaster means something completely different in the Western context.
A nationwide English newspaper, aimed at being the publicity vehicle for China overseas. It can be subscribed to outside China or is available for free in airports and elsewhere. Last autumn, the paper paid for an advertising supplement in Iowa’s largest newspaper to highlight the impact of the trade war on the state’s soybean farmers as “the fruit of a president’s folly.” It has since been more measured in its commentaries or reporting on the topic. Its website is here.
A newspaper in the People’s Daily group. It is focused on international news and has a nationalist bias. The newspaper’s editorials often have a belligerent tone, but sometimes it can be more outspoken on taboo topics than others. One example is a recent commentary where it said that there won’t be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square event in Hong Kong. The crackdown in 1989 is often an off-limit area for Chinese media. It has an English paper, which sometimes matches up with the Chinese version. The Chinese website is here, and the English one is here.
Hu Xijin’s Twitter Feed
Hu is the editor-in-chief of the Global Times. He has become very active on Twitter -- a site blocked in China -- after the trade war broke out. He often tweets his opinions or the information he hears from official sources. This year, Hu’s Twitter feed accurately predict or leaked several Chinese moves, from an investigation into FedEx to China’s most recent retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion in American imports. Hu’s remarks may also just reflect his own thinking, as an example of a nationalist point of view. He can be followed at Huxijing_GT. And here is his exclusive interview with Bloomberg.
A blog run by the Economic Daily using a pseudonym on the WeChat platform has risen to become a key source for China analysts, especially those who focus on the trade talks. In fact, that’s the only theme it covers. It has released on-site photos and insider information from previous negotiation rounds. Many of its articles were later carried by the official WeChat accounts of the People’s Daily and Xinhua. Its most recent piece, published right after Vice Premier Liu He’s speech calling for calm resolution, said this attitude didn’t preclude fighting back. It can be subscribed to for free on WeChat, but increasingly its articles are carried by other domestic media. It doesn’t have an English version.
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