'We Have To Stand Our Ground': Chinese State TV Host Liu Xin On U.S.-China Trade War

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China's state broadcaster CGTN anchor Liu Xin attends an interview at the CCTV headquarters in Beijing on May 30. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)
China's state broadcaster CGTN anchor Liu Xin attends an interview at the CCTV headquarters in Beijing on May 30. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

With no resolution in sight, tensions in the U.S.-China trade war are running high.

The escalating dispute recently had a prime-time TV moment: In May, Trish Regan, an American television host from the Fox Business Network, debated live with Liu Xin, an anchor on the China Global Television Network, the international arm of the state-owned China Central Television, over ongoing U.S.-China trade tariffs.

Regan tweeted at Liu a few days later, inviting her back on the show for a “round 2” discussion:

Liu tweeted at Regan: “I look forward to it!”

Liu’s job with China Central Television is to communicate the Chinese perspective on tough issues like trade economics to an English-language audience around the world. She tells Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd that China is “more or less prepared” if the two world superpowers’ relationship continues to sour.

“I think China is trying its best to keep cool, but it's also getting ready for a protracted period of trouble,” Liu says. “And I think over the past few months, the Chinese people have already started to get used to the idea that if the United States really wants to have a trade war with us, then we have to stand our ground. So we're preparing ourselves.”

If Washington and Beijing can’t come to a “respectful, mutually acceptable agreement,” the consequences of a trade war will extend farther than just the U.S. and China, Liu says.

“The world's economic growth will be hurt as well,” she says. “So is that what we are going to see? I hope not.”

China's state broadcaster CGTN anchor Liu Xin looks at a screen showing her debate with Fox Business Network presenter Trish Regan on May 30, 2019. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)
China's state broadcaster CGTN anchor Liu Xin looks at a screen showing her debate with Fox Business Network presenter Trish Regan on May 30, 2019. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

Interview Highlights

On her original debate with Trish Regan

“Well it was the very first time that a news presenter, a journalist from the national broadcaster, appeared on such a high-profile occasion on a major U.S. media TV organization. So it got a lot of attention. And looking back, people here — especially in China — they were just dissecting every syllable that I was uttering. It was really much more attention than I would have thought. I think I did OK. I think people were reasonably satisfied so that was fine.”

On the chances that the trade war will solve itself

“Well just from the way that the invitation or the challenges issued in public — with some kind of a negative consequence attached — it really doesn't bode very well. But I think at this moment we really do need to cool down both sides, especially the United States, [and] not to give this kind of public threats.”

On how the U.S.-China trade war would impact China’s economy

“I think China has its estimates and we just talked about it the other day in our show. And one of the experts talked about maybe about half a percentage point of our GDP could possibly be shaved off for this year's target. And China's GDP is about 13 trillion U.S. dollars according to international estimates. So they have some kind of an idea. But this is a two-sided affair. I mean if the United States continues to pursue the policy that it is pursuing now and if there is no way for both sides to come to a respectful, mutually acceptable agreement then I guess we would have to just live with the circumstance. But at the end of the day, I think the Chinese people and the Chinese leadership have the confidence that time is on our side.”

On which country will take the biggest hit from the tariffs

“If you talk about the size of the Chinese market, I guess the U.S. probably needs China much more. We're talking about a country of 1.4 billion people, that's three times the size of the U.S. population. And let's not forget, there is a big middle class that is hugely hungry for quality goods [and] quality services from everywhere around the world. And here, our understanding is that the United States probably stand to lose more.”

On whether the Communist Party has any influence on her reporting

“This is not the first time that I've heard this. And there are all kinds of ways to put a label on what we do and try to discredit what we do. I have been working with the national broadcaster since I graduated from university back in 1997 and I've always found this job fascinating and challenging and gratifying because I always try to measure my work from a simple professional perspective whether I'm following the facts, whether I'm giving the full picture, whether I'm being fair, whether I'm being accurate, whether I'm being interesting, engaging, even entertaining because we're doing TV.

“We have coordination, of course, because we have multiple dialogues, opinion shows, we have multiple news programs, so there is always a coordination as to who does what. And if there is an important event coming up for instance, if there is this horticultural exposition coming up as what is going on in Beijing, then we'll say OK maybe some programs you do it today. Another program you do it another day. So we have [this] kind of coordination of course. But I don't care what people call me. I just try to do a better job every day.”

On the U.S. Justice Department labeling China Global Television Network as a foreign agent, and whether she agrees with that assessment

“If you ask me, I definitely don't think so. As I said, I see myself as a journalist just as any other journalists around the world. And I think it is in the interests of the viewers to have this perspective which has been missing in the big picture. You have been getting information from American TV or from international TV about China, most of the time talked about from a foreign journalist perspective or I don't know. But you know, to get authentic information coming out of China, I think there is a certain value to it. And I don't understand why people would just, you know, discredit and try to put a label on it. I think it's ... their own loss.”

On her network's reporting on the Uyghurs, a minority Muslim community in China's far western Xinjiang region

“Well we talked about it. We've had discussions actually quite a few times with guests both from China and from Turkey and we had studio discussions on this subject and we talked about what are the reasons why the Chinese government decided to take these measures and what had been the effect of these measures. By the way that number you just cited I think it is not very accurate. I never saw in any official reports any number so significant being cited. Anyway, I think it is a big challenge for China to tackle domestic terrorism just as it is in the United States and there is no textbook to follow. There is no playbook to follow here. So what is being done is through education, through vocational education, through teaching people the laws and the languages of their country to help them support themselves and deradicalize.”

On whether she sees religious repression against Muslim minorities in western China

“Well from what I understood from what I read and again, I have never been to the Uyghur Autonomous Region so I cannot tell you that I've seen this, but I've seen numbers pointing to the kind of religious facilities that are made available to the people there. For instance, I understand in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, there are one mosque for every 500 worshippers, that is even more than some Muslim majority countries such as Turkey. So I do not know where the kind of evidence comes from saying that people are forbidden to follow their normal religious activities. I do not know. And there are foreign tourists going to Xinjiang, by the way. They can see for themselves.”

On whether there’s a misunderstanding between Chinese and U.S. governments

“I think there is a great gap in information. There is a great deficit in understanding between the two sides, between the two governments, and especially between the two peoples. That's why I say the trade deficit is huge but it's not the source of the problem. The biggest problem we have today is that we, on the Chinese side, are much more curious, much more open-minded [and] much better informed about what's happening in your country than the other way around. I think on the Chinese side, there is a great curiosity about Western culture, about Western science, technology [and] development as well. So there is the hunger, there is a sponge on our side. And then for the United States, you have to tell me why people are not so curious. Maybe they're just generally not so interested about what's happening outside their immediate borders. I don't know. Maybe your life is too comfortable or when everybody is speaking English probably you don't find it necessary to speak anyone else's language. Maybe there are other factors, I don't know.”

Chris Bentley produced and edited this story for broadcast with Todd MundtSerena McMahon adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on June 17, 2019.


Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.



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