The growing trade and tech war between Washington and Beijing has been characterised by fierce rhetorical broadsides from both sides of the dispute.
But on Chinese social media, especially among those working in the country’s tech industry, some are adopting a more humorous approach to the commercial stand-off, even though it threatens to create a rift in the global economy not seen since the end of the cold war.
In one joke that has gone viral online, China and the US are each allotted scores for every time they have blocked a company from the other country from entering their respective markets.
In the Chinese column, next to the country’s flag the score is “100+ points” with the logos of Google, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Dropbox, OneDrive, Reddit and others to indicate the victims. In the other column, next to the US flag there is only “1 point” — for Huawei, China’s premier telecom equipment maker.
The black humour online stands in contrast to China’s tightly controlled state media, which has been whipping up nationalistic support for Beijing in what could be a prolonged period of pain for the world’s second-largest economy.
The day before Mr Trump raised tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 per cent this month, China’s official Xinhua news agency released an editorial titled “If you want to talk then let’s talk, if you want to fight then let’s fight”. China responded to Mr Trump’s increase by ratcheting up its own duties on $60bn of US products.
Last week, Xi Jinping, China’s president, said his people must prepare for a new Long March, a reference to an arduous, one-year journey undertaken by the Communist party’s Red Army in 1934 as it fled the Nationalists in China’s civil war. His comments, broadcast on state television, were interpreted to refer to preparing for a worsening economic environment in China as a result of the trade war.
But equally alarming for China’s burgeoning technology industry as the tariffs was Mr Trump’s inclusion of Huawei on the so-called “entity list”, under which US companies will not be able to sell products or services to the Chinese company without a licence. Other national technology champions, such as surveillance camera groups Hikvision and Dahua, are also bracing themselves for possible inclusion on the blacklist.
“China already knows what it’s like to suffer under the yoke of a colonial master. No matter what the US or anyone else tries, it won’t do so again,” said an opinion piece in the China Daily on Friday.
On social media, however, rather than rail against imperialism, commentators noted tongue-in-cheek that it was actually a badge of honour for a company to be targeted by Mr Trump for technology sanctions. It showed how important that particular enterprise was.
China’s biggest tech groups, Alibaba and Tencent, which dominate the country’s social media, ecommerce and payments markets, had not been hit and were surely feeling left out, noted one post.
“Now Trump, you must be clear with us — who is the real high tech in China? You’d better announce it right now, immediately, don’t wait until next week, otherwise we will lose so much face,” say the hypothetical heads of Alibaba and Tencent in the joke.
“It’s always your enemy who knows you best,” one internet user commented under the post.
Also feeling left out, according to a similar gag, was Beijing’s Zhongguancun technology district, often described as China’s Silicon Valley. While companies such as Huawei, which are based in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen, had been hit, Zhongguancun’s companies, which include search engine Baidu and computer manufacturer Lenovo, had been passed over by Mr Trump, noted the joke. It was subsequently censored on WeChat.
Being included on the entity list “feels a bit like getting an official seal of approval from the US government”, joked an employee at Sensetime, a Hong Kong-based surveillance companies that is rumoured to also be a candidate for the blacklist.