The highly-anticipated showdown on Wednesday night between Trish Regan of Fox Business and Liu Xin of China Global Television Network (CGTN) — the overseas arm of state-controlled China Central Television (CCTV) — turned out to be a tame question-and-answer session with little exchange of barbs.
Some observers say that, as both are neither policymakers nor experts on trade, their “disappointing” talks contributed nothing of substance, but stoked up emotions of national pride in China.
Others, however, welcome such dialogues that allow free exchange of differing views to continue and set an example for U.S. and Chinese officials to resume their trade negotiations.
The media hype has not only shed light on the increasingly sharp divide between the two countries over trade but also press freedom in China as well, they add.
The buildup for the debate started last week when Liu released a commentary, accusing Regan of “economic warmongering,” which led to Regan’s invitation via Twitter for an “honest” debate and Wednesday’s face-off between them.
Liu appeared as a guest, via satellite from Beijing, on Regan’s U.S. based show.
Citing rights issues, CGTN wasn’t allowed to live-stream the segment, but many Chinese appeared to watch it on the internet.
As expected, during the 16-minute-long segment, Liu stuck closely to China’s talking points on every question Regan raised, be it China’s intellectual property (IP) theft, state capitalism or tariffs.
When asked by Regan to respond to a hypothetical question if the United States “forces” China’s Huawei to share its technological developments, Liu replied: “if it is through cooperation, if it is through mutual learning… if you pay for the use of this IP or this high-tech knowledge, I think it’s absolutely fine. Why not? We all prosper because we learn from each other.”
Liu, however, admitted that cases of IP theft do exist, but that doesn’t mean all Chinese people are stealing. And IP protection has been a consensus in China, she added.
Analysts, in general, believe Liu is on a mission to defend China’s trade stance although Liu insisted she is neither a member of the Communist Party of China, nor speaks for the party, which controls her station.
“They [state media broadcasters including Liu] all come on the debate or shows with a mission. Many won’t show their true color as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, but in fact, deep in their mind and thoughts, they have long joined the party,” Lu Nan, an outspoken Chinese dissident, who now lives in the United States, said during a Mingjin TV discussion.
Lu added that he gave Liu credit for having skillfully argued her way out in a language that is not her mother tongue although truth beat many of her arguments.
David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project, an independent research program in partnership with the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong, also noted “the seemingly ever-present hand of the Chinese party-state,” saying that Liu can’t afford to act as she pleases in a country, where media professionals are asked to pledge loyalty to the party-state.
Stoking nationalistic emotions
“Their debate, so-called… could play a substantial role in stoking emotions of national pride in China, regardless of the outcome. Liu is already being portrayed on social media as a national champion,” Bandurski told VOA in an email, adding the show has little substance.
The show has indeed attracted so much attention in China that, right after it ended, the top-trending sentence on Weibo — a Twitter-like microblogging platform in China — was “Liu was interrupted by Trish three times in the first 30 seconds of the show.”
Many Chinese netizens cheered for Liu’s success.
One Weibo user praised Liu to be “neither overbearing nor servile and have showed good demeanor from a big country” while another wrote that Liu “stands to reason and has done a good job.”
There were, however, others who said they were disappointed with the show because it came nowhere near a heated debate.
Set an example
Nevertheless, Harley Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China, said the conversation between Regan and Liu could set an example for both the United States and China to follow and reach a final resolution for the trade dispute.
“As these two super anchors can come to together and held a very civilized conversation on very difficult issues, I think, as two nations, we should be able to sit down at the table and resolve the issues,” Seyedin told a CGTN show right after the Regan-Liu talk.
Xu Huiming, an associate professor of journalism at Guangzhou University, agreed, saying talks are better than no talks.
“Shall there be no exchange of views, you won’t know what’s on the mind of the others. Any exchange of views, even if they differ from one another, raises attention to those who are interested in the matter,” the professor said.