Deng Xiaoping touted by Chinese media as model for US trade war strategy

A People's Daily publication promoting the legacy of Deng Xiaoping on Aug. 1 is causing speculation about China's strategy in the trade conflict and may also point to intrigue within the CCP

Deng Xiaoping with U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter in 1979

Deng Xiaoping with U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter in 1979 (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – On Aug. 1, an overseas edition of China’s People’s Daily newspaper published an article reviewing the legacy of former CCP chairman Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in relation to the current trade war with China.

The reference to Deng Xiaoping has sparked discussion about China’s strategy in the trade war, as the U.S. prepares to follow through on a second round of tariffs. The Deng reference is also fueling speculation on possible factionalism developing in the party ahead of the Beidaihe summit.

The article was written by Mei Xinyu (梅新育), a researcher working at an institute under the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Mei notes that historically, trade conflicts with the U.S. have occurred in conjunction with major shifts of the political paradigms.

Mei references Deng Xiaoping in the context of U.S. restrictions placed on seven categories of Chinese textiles in 1979.

At the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in September 1982, in his opening remarks Deng said “No foreign nation should expect China to be their vassal, and they should never expect that China will accept any arrangement harmful to the country’s interests.”

The article draws a connection to the current U.S. China Trade War and the U.S. policies that are “harmful to the country’s interests.” Mei uses Deng Xiaoping to represent a strong China with a hardline stance resisting U.S. demands.

The article takes a decisively antagonistic stance towards the U.S. saying that when things do not accord with what is best, then “it is reasonable to stand up and fight.”

Mei says that China should make full use of its advantages, while maintaining a view of the larger economic context in order to prevent major systemic financial risks.

Referencing the legacy of Deng Xiaoping, Mei asserts that reform and consistent efforts at self-improvement will lead to China’s success.

However, as CNA points out, eventually it was the decision of Deng Xiaoping to negotiate in China’s interests that resolved the conflict over textile exports to the U.S., and resulted in a situation that was beneficial to both sides moving forward.

Therefore, the allusion to Deng, while couched in the language of a strong, immovable China, may actually suggest a willingness to negotiate, rather than a recommendation to prolong the conflict.

With the current government led by Xi Jinping under great pressure to reach a quick conclusion to the trade dispute, Deng offers a historical role model whose approach will allow Xi to save face while also allowing him to make concessions when necessary.

At first reading, while the author is promoting China taking a hard stance in the trade conflict with the U.S., the use of Deng's legacy by the publication may actually have several other layers of meaning intended for different readers.

With the early August Beidaihe Summit of the Communist Party set to begin very soon, there has been speculation over the past few months that factional rifts are forming among Chinese leadership.

A unnamed Communist Party official, reportedly close to former chairman Hu Jintao, spoke with Japan’s Sankei News in mid-July, and suggested that the current political climate surrounding the Beidaihe Summit is very reminiscent of the political climate prior to the rise of Deng Xiaoping in 1977, which accompanied the fall of acting chairman Hua Guofeng and represented the end of the Mao faction’s reign at the helm of the party.