Memo: As trade tensions rise, Americans favorability China lowers

MEMO: MEDIA TENDENCIES + TRENDS: US-CHINA COMMERCIAL RELATIONS

Pew: Concerns about China include economic threats, cyberattacks, environmental damage, and human rights

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American attitudes toward China have become less favorable over the past year, as trade tensions intensify between the United States and China according to a Pew Research Center study released on August 28, 2018. The survey was conducted from May 14 to June 15, 2018, among 1,500 adults.

Pew reports: "Trade disputes have dominated relations between the world’s two biggest economies in recent weeks, as Washington and Beijing have slapped tariffs on goods from their respective countries. Although tensions over trade are hardly new, they have intensified during the Trump administration, and as a new Pew Research Center survey illustrates, American attitudes toward China have become somewhat less confident over the past year.

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"Overall, 38% of Americans have a favorable opinion of China, down slightly from 44% in 2017. Attitudes toward China have fluctuated to some extent in recent years, becoming more negative during the 2012 election cycle, but more positive in 2017, before this year’s decline."

Worries about job losses, debt, and the trade deficit are less common today than in 2012 when the economic mood in the US was generally more negative. Over the same period, however, Americans have become more concerned about the threat of cyberattacks from China.

The report sees that a majority of those surveyed – 62% – believe that US debt to China was a “very serious” issue, with 27% saying it was “somewhat serious.”

In a bright spot among those surveyed, young Americans typically have more positive attitudes toward China. About half of 18- to 29-year-olds (49%) express a favorable view of China, compared with only 37% of those ages 30 to 49 and 34% of people 50 and older. However, this generational break should not be seen as a Chinse soft-power breakthrough as younger Americans are generally much less concerned than older generations about cyberattacks and job losses to China. Also, younger Americans tend to be less engaged in national politics and tend to vote less consistently.

More significant than the generational break is notable differences along partisan lines. Pew reports: "Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are especially worried about economic issues – such as debt, job losses, and the trade deficit – in the US-China relationship, while Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are particularly worried about the impact of China’s growth on the global environment."

In an issue that is failing to capture the imagination of Americans beyond the Beltway, Pew reports survey participants are less concerned about China’s tensions with Taiwan. Writing in The Diplomat, Shannon Tiezzi says: "A new public focus by policymakers and elites on China as a military and strategic rival is barely registering for the average American."

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Memo: Global Magnitsky Sanctions for China over its Xinjiang Crackdown?

MEMO: MEDIA TENDENCIES + TRENDS: US-CHINA COMMERCIAL RELATIONS

Back in February, China’s security services detained several close relatives of four US-based reporters working for Radio Free Asia.

The detentions were an apparent attempt to intimidate or punish them due to the coverage produced by their relatives over Beijing's activities in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang region.

According to Human Rights Watch, Muslim ethnic Uighurs have been detained in “political education centers” by Chinese authorities in the western province of Xinjiang in recent months.

Beijing called the crackdown a “strike hard” campaign against terrorists and separatists, but effectively this means Chinese government security services can target anyone who expresses their religious or cultural identity in the province.

For months, international media have relentlessly reported on the mass incarceration and cultural suppression of China’s Muslim Uyghur minority —allegations that Beijing vehemently denied at a United Nation's panel for the first time earlier this month.

At a meeting of a United Nations human rights panel, a Chinese delegation categorically said there was no such thing as “re-education centers” in Xinjiang nor was there any subjugation of religious freedom in the Muslim-majority region. The Chinese response comes after the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said that there were “credible reports” that 2 million Uyghur and Muslim minorities in China are held captive in secret internment camps.

Following this hearing, The Economist led with the bold headline: "Apartheid with Chinese characteristics" and wrote “China has turned Xinjiang into a police state like no other. Totalitarian determination and modern technology have produced a massive abuse of human rights.”

This situation in  Xinjiang is a growing soft-power and human rights issue for China. Being slapped with the apartheid label is problematic for numerous reasons and will impact American business operating in or selling to China more and more.

This issue will increase the public affairs implications for American businesses operating in China. More and more consumers are demanding higher values from brands and companies they interact with and from the products they purchase.

This growing issue compelled Liu Xiaoming, the Ambassador of China to the United Kingdom (UK), to write a letter-to-the-editor of The Financial Times entitled, "Harmony in Xinjiang is based on three principles."

Ambassador Liu ended the letter by saying: "The UK also faces the issues of infiltration and spread of religious extremism. Hence the British government issued its counter-terrorism strategy last June to underline the importance of early intervention in the cases of people under the influence of extremist views. This shows that terrorism is the common enemy of all mankind and the infiltration of religious extremism is a common challenge to the whole world. Every country needs to tackle this challenge effectively. It is time to stop blaming China for taking lawful and effective preventive measures."

Ten days ago, Isaac Stone Fish in Slate asked: "Why is the NBA in Xinjiang?" He reported the league is "running a training center in the middle of one of the world’s worst humanitarian atrocities."

Stone Fish wrote: "Doing business in an authoritarian country like China inevitably presents ethical and political dilemmas, as several tech giants and airlines have recently learned. But doing business right in the midst of a campaign that some human rights groups have described as genocide is another thing entirely—and most US companies have unsurprisingly given Xinjiang a wide berth. Yet one of the exceptions is striking: the National Basketball Association. In Oct. 2016, the NBA set up one of its three Chinese training centers in, of all places, Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang and site of massive race riots in 2009 that left hundreds dead. The center, which houses roughly 240 student-athletes ages 14 to 18, according to its website, has kept a very low profile. That’s unsurprising—because the NBA presence in Xinjiang is shameful."

Such media coverage has helped this issue to gain a higher profile on Capitol Hill. ABC News reported this week that lawmakers urged President Trump to sanction China over its Xinjiang crackdown.

Bipartisan members of Congress sent a letter to the president and senior members of his administration suggesting sanctions be imposed on Beijing due to the millions of Uyghur Muslims in the region who are reportedly being incarcerated in so-called “training centers.”

“Muslim ethnic minorities are being subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, egregious restrictions on religious practice and culture, and a digitized surveillance system so pervasive that every aspect of daily life is monitored,” the bipartisan letter said. “Given the gravity of the situation and the severity and scope of the rights abuses being perpetrated, we urge you to apply Global Magnitsky sanctions, and consider additional measures, against senior Chinese Government and Communist Party officials who oversee these repressive policies.”

According to the letter, organized by the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China and its chair Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and co-chair Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), the crackdown has targeted Muslim minorities for even the most straightforward displays of their religion in public or for communicating with family overseas.

“No Chinese official or business complicit in what is happening in the XUAR should profit from access to the United States or the US financial system,” the lawmakers write in their letter.

In speaking with a longtime business lobbyist representing American multinational companies in China this week, she voiced her frustration over the state of the US-China commercial relationship. She told me she was frankly growing more and more conflicted over her years of work to advance the relationship; she specifically mentioned the Chinese government's activities in Xijinaing.

As consumers demand more from the companies that receive their money and attention, coupled with the use of the word apartheid as well as growing oversight on Capitol Hill, this is an issue to watch.