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Chinese Bloggers Look Beyond U.S. Tariff

New America Media, Commentary, Xujun Eberlein Posted: Apr 05, 2007

Editor's Note: The United States has imposed a tariff on exported paper from China, the first such tariff in more than two decades. But Chinese bloggers say that the tariff is the least of their worries. New America Media contributor Xujun Eberlein was born in Chongqing, China. She writes on China from her home in Wayland, Mass.

The Chinese government was quick to oppose the new U.S. tariff on Chinese exports of paper, the first U.S. tariff on China in two decades. But Chinese bloggers, who tend to criticize policies they see as being anti-Chinese, seemed unfazed by this latest U.S. imposition.

Used to print anything from paper bags to book covers, exported high-gloss paper (known as coated paper) from China makes up an estimated value of $224 million, or 0.1 percent of the $233 billion U.S.- China trade deficit. Economists blame the trade deficit partly on Chinas subsidized exports, which add to the influx of cheap goods from China into U.S. markets.

Wang Xinpei, the spokesperson for China's Ministry of Commerce, issued an early morning statement on March 31, hours after the United States announced the tariffs. Wang points out that, since 1984, the United States has established the precedent not to impose an "anti-subsidy tax" the Chinese term for the tariffs in question on countries with no market economy.

He stopped short of calling the United States hypocritical. On the one hand, the U.S. insists that China is a non-market economy country; on the other hand, it is imposing the tariffs despite China's repeated strong objections," Wang said, adding that such measures "seriously hurt the interest and feelings of the Chinese business circle" and is "unacceptable."

The reaction from China's blogosphere, which usually responds immediately and feverishly to international politics, was much slower this time. Only a few posts beyond mere reprints of the news appear on major Chinese blogging sites. The posts tend to take issue with the Chinese government rather than criticizing the United States.

"I strongly and firmly support this measure by the U.S!" writes a blog responder on a forum called Make a Powerful Nation on the website of the government-owned newspaper Peoples Daily (people.com.cn).

Another blogger agreed, saying China should stop using our own countrymen's blood and sweat to irrigate the U.S.-Japan economic body!" The original poster added that he hopes Europe and Japan will join the United States in forcing China to abolish its wreck-the-country-and-ruin-the-people export policy.

A post on one of Chinas largest commercial websites, sina.com, argued that excessive papermaking for export purposes contributes to China's heavy environmental pollution problem and should be stopped. The bloggers sympathies are with the Chinese people and have little to do with the U.S. trade deficit.

The only stark, nationalistic voice on the web appears on the official website of Chinas Ministry of Commerce. Below the official statement opposing the tariffs, a reader commented: "Americans always do things that are incomprehensible, self-contradictory and stupid. If this is not intended to cause friction, what is?" Another reader calls on the Chinese government to take them (the United States) to the WTO (World Trade Organization)" and "use international law to stop their clearly unreasonable behavior!

Aside from these few comments, it seems that, so far, civilian bloggers are largely indifferent to this trade fight. Their silence speaks loudly and dismisses the new tariffs as mere political posturing, in which they have no interest. This attitude should not be surprising given that the Chinese have already, without yielding, lived through over two decades from 1950 to 1972 of a fruitless attempt at international isolation led by the United States. Until President Richard Nixons visit to China in 1972, the United States had imposed a 20-year trade embargo on China. There may be some serious domestic conflicts between the Chinese people and their government, but when facing foreign pressures and "bullies," their stand can be surprisingly uniform. Mao Zedong's famous assertion that the American imperialist is a "paper tiger" still rings true to Chinese ears.

And they are probably right. There are 1.3 billion people in China and the tariff policy is too small to be noticed by most. A blogger on sina.com tried to take a public opinion poll by asking readers to choose one of these options:

1. Strike back on America's unreasonable tariff measure
2. Don't strike back. Bear it or forget it.

But the poll received no response.

Despite the Chinese blogospheres seeming inattention to the paper tariffs, there is a great deal of symbolism in applying a tariff to China's paper exports, which American policy makers may not have realized. After all, who invented paper? The Chinese take great national pride in the "four great inventions" of their ancestors: papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder. Accustomed to reading hidden meaning between the lines, the Chinese might be tittering: Will the U.S. government's next tariff be on gunpowder and fireworks?

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