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China to its state media: keep calm, don't inflame trade row with U.S.

Reuters  |  SHANGHAI/BEIJING 

By and Michael Martina

SHANGHAI/(Reuters) - is clearly angry about Washington's hard line on trade, but has controlled coverage of the row in its media, limiting open commentary and banning attacks on U.S. Donald Trump, several sources with knowledge of the matter said.

has issued unusually strict rules limiting coverage of the trade war because of worries that unrestrained reporting could spark instability or roil its already jittery financial markets, according to sources within Chinese

"When exposing and criticising American words and actions, be careful not to link it to Trump and instead to aim it at the U.S. government," said a memo based on a set of directives issued verbally by government officials that was circulated to reporters at a state-run outlet and seen by

must help "stabilise the economy, growth, employment, stabilise foreign trade, investment, finance, stabilise the stock market, the foreign exchange market, the housing market, and basically stabilise the peoples' thinking, hearts and expectations", it said.

A person who works at a leading Chinese website said the rules issued last week were "the most strict yet".

The website was told to post only stories about the trade conflict by state agency Xinhua, rather than publishing its own. It was also ordered to keep the topic out of the top few headlines and closely manage comments about it, according to the source.

The website's app was no longer permitted to send push notifications on the subject to users, and the website was forbidden from setting up special pages about the dispute.

Like other Chinese who spoke with for this story, the source declined to be identified by name due to the sensitivity of the topic and because he was not authorised to speak publicly about it.

Editors at several leading state-media outlets, including the Daily, the and Xinhua, were not made available after requested interviews. The information office of the State Council, or cabinet, did not immediately comment on the state's efforts to censor news of the trade row.

It was not immediately known if Beijing's attitude would change after the threatened further import duties on Chinese goods on Tuesday in a sharp escalation of the conflict between the world's two biggest economies.

To be sure, there have been vitriolic editorials in key Chinese newspapers as the trade tensions have simmered.

In recent weeks, have criticised U.S. behaviour as reckless, hegemonic, delusional, and accused the of harbouring "blood lust" and behaving like a "gang of hoodlums".

REVEALING CARDS

But the attacks have been general - there has been little mention of Trump, for instance - and few details on how will be affected.

Two sources at separate state-run news organisations said they had been instructed not to mention the impact of the trade war on Chinese companies in their coverage.

At one large state news organisation, a fourth source said journalists had been instructed to report on Chinese company news with caution because some were already feeling the effects of the trade spat.

Reporters at the news outlet, a key government mouthpiece, were directed not to stir up negative emotions or "reveal the cards" of Chinese importers, the source said.

In disputes with and in recent years, has taken a more aggressive stance and at times encouraged public anger.

In 2012, tacitly supported anti-protests during a spat over disputed islands, and last year the helped target South Korean brands on amid a row over Seoul's decision to allow the to install an advanced missile defence system on the

But the power imbalance in the China-U.S. trade dispute and the potential for real economic discomfort have led the control-obsessed leadership to adopt a softer approach, analysts said.

"They know the seriousness of the situation and the possible consequences, and they don't want the to bring any kind of extra damage," said Li Xigen, a of Media and Communications at

"Later, as the situation gets worse, if the people are actually affected with their jobs, with prices ... that may become real anger, and if the media do anything to stir up that kind of anger it will cause some kind of very bad consequences."

The trade war does not appear to be a hot item on China's tightly-controlled said authorities were censoring anything found objectionable, minimising the prospect that any outcry on platforms could spur a backlash against U.S. brands.

Wang Jiangyu, a trade expert at the National University of Singapore, said attacking U.S. firms could backfire.

"China might need to restrict the market access of American companies. But to purge American companies that are already operating in China might be a very bad idea. Those companies generate jobs and revenue for China. Most products are made in China," he said.

"To do something to harm American firms that are already operating in China would be very stupid."

(Reporting by John Ruwitch, Beijing Newsroom and Michael Martina; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, July 11 2018. 15:29 IST
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