Twofish's Blog

September 14, 2009

Tire tariffs and the general cluenessness of the New York Times

Filed under: china, new york times, wall street — twofish @ 10:34 am

I’ve been in this discussion of the Chinese tariff on Brad Delong’s website,

when this article from the New York Times comes in.  Geeze they are totally clueless.

China unexpectedly increased pressure Sunday on the United States in a widening trade dispute, taking the first steps toward imposing tariffs on American exports of automotive products and chicken meat in retaliation for President Obama’s decision late Friday to levy tariffs on tires from China.

China’s response is only unexpected if you know nothing about international trade and Chinese politics.  The Chinese response is perfectly expected if you have the slightest idea of what is going on.  It’s not as if the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, suddenly had a meeting on Saturday when they decides what to do.

Even if you know *nothing* about Chinese politics and economics, the prospect that the Chinese government would impose some sort of tariff in response to Obama’s tire tariff is hardly unexpected.  What would you expect the Chinese government to do, hug and kiss the US trade negotiations and heap love and praise on them.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for imposing tire tariffs.  Sheesssshhh.

Also, saying that maybe you will have the WTO look into something is not a *strong countermove*.

The Chinese government’s strong countermove followed a weekend of nationalistic vitriol against the United States on Chinese Web sites in response to the tire tariff. “The U.S. is shameless!” said one posting, while another called on the Chinese government to sell all of its huge holdings of Treasury bonds.

My God!!!!  This is dumb.  The New York Times is reduced to figuring out what is going on from *BLOG POSTS*.   What’s worse they are mentioning a blog posting without doing something creative like maybe linking to the posts.

So let me get this straight.  Some college student in some internet cafe somewhere starts writing some angry blog posts in between games of World of Warcraft and surfing internet porn.  The New York Times reads this and concludes that China is about to declare economic war on the US.  OK maybe, but can you at least do me the favor of *linking* to that blog post?

But the timing of the announcement — on a weekend and just after the tire decision in Washington — sent an unmistakable message of retaliation. The official Xinhua news agency Web site prominently linked its reports on the tire dispute and the Chinese investigations.

Well maybe can you link to that website?

Also you might try to find someone that can read Chinese, who can point out that the tire dispute isn’t being mentioned very heavily at all on any Chinese website.  Finally, you aren’t getting the hint.  The tire dispute on Xinhua is number two.  If you look at the number one article on any Chinese website (that is, assuming you can read Chinese), you’ll find that the number one article on Xinhua is Hu Jintao visiting the G20 summit to talk about financial regulation.

“Why did our government purchase so much U.S. government debt?” said one posting signed by a “Group of Angry Youths.” It continued, “We should get rid of all such U.S. investments.”

Yes.  The “Group of Angry Youths.”  As we all know the “Group of Angry Youths” is such an important group in Chinese trade policy.  Now that Obama has got the “Group of Angry Youths” upset, we know that there is going to be WAR!!!!!  The Politburo thought that they were going to issue just a formulaic response, but then they started reading the blogs and found out that the “GROUP OF ANGRY YOUTHS” was upset, so Hu Jintao got on the phone and told the Minister of  Commerce,  we need to do something because internet bloggers are after us.

Actually as the day goes on, I expect to see the New York Times gradually change.  Also, if any reporters from the NYT really do want some ideas as to what is going on.  Just go to the discussion on Brad Delong’s blog.

Here the general cluelessness of the NYT is just funny.  The fact that we got into a major war based on “intelligence” that wasn’t much better than this makes it less funny.

Also, I don’t have a problem with the NYT getting it’s news from blog posts and websites, but do you mind maybe *linking* to those sites.



  1. Your major point is right, probably, but while the Chinese government is willing to ignore public opinion up to the point of calling out tanks against it, “GROUP[s] OF ANGRY YOUTHS” can be semi-official stalking horses used to float trial balloons. So citing them is not quite as silly as you suggested.

    Comment by John Emerson — September 15, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

  2. The Chinese government can’t ignore public opinion. On occasional it has had to respond to public opinion by sending out tanks and riot police, but sending out tanks and riot police is not ignoring public opinion.

    Also, I do think that “Group of Angry Youths” is silly because it reveals a totally cluelessness by the New York Times concerning the Chinese government.

    If the Chinese government wanted to use semi-official stalking horses, they would quote well known academics from semi-official think tanks such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and there are some well known talking heads (Chen Siwei to name one) that the Chinese government does use to float trial balloons. Also there are “serious blogs” written by well known academics, and while they aren’t official, they can be used to gauge the general climate of opinion in much the same way that Brad Delong’s blog and the Huffington Post give you some insight as to what people in the Obama administration are thinking.

    Someone familiar with the Chinese press can very quickly pick up these hints and shades of meaning. Now I wouldn’t expect someone outside of China to know the difference between “Group of Angry Youth” and what a quote from Bloomberg by Chen Siwei means, and summarizing these things so that outsiders have a clear idea of what they mean is not an easy thing to do.

    You can tell when the Chinese government is trying to send a message. The Chinese press has to respond to directives given out by the Central Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. When the Chinese government really wants to send a message, you’ll find the same story or the same type of story in all of the newspapers that are close to the state. If you find something in one newspaper, then it means that the order to print that story didn’t come from the CPD.

    Now the fact that the top story was Hu Jintao is going to meet with the G-20 *is* something that came more or less directly from CPD, since you had pretty much the same story in all of the newspapers that are close to the Party center. In that case it’s obvious that the CPD issued a directive that this story was going to be on page one, and what the major talking points were.

    There are newspapers that are close to the Party center, and then there are newspapers that while state-owned are pretty autonomous. Curiously the newspapers that are close to the Party have a bi-directional flow of information. The Party will often ask that reporters from the People’s Daily or Xinhua write a story on a particular topic for internal use only, so that the Party leaders have information on what is going on.

    Blogs aren’t subject to this sort of authority. In the case of blogs, CPD acting through the Ministry of Informational Industry can and will censor topics, but blog writers aren’t given instructions on what to write (and usually it’s pretty obvious what the party wants you not to write about).

    There are cases in which the Chinese government has used what is called the “50 cent army” to influence discussion and opinion (these are people paid by the Party to post things), but I don’t know of a single case in which this has been used to influence foreign opinion or to float a trial balloon on any issue of policy.

    But presumably that’s what the reporters of the New York Times are supposed to do. In theory the NYT’s job is to filter what is important from what is irrelevant, and this means being an expert in decoding messages from the Chinese government. But they obviously were totally clueless in this article.

    Curiously while the New York Times posts have been awful, the Washington Post’s coverage has been very good. The main reason for this is that the Washington Post is focusing coverage on Washington rather Beijing and presumably they have reporters that understand Washington.

    Comment by twofish — September 16, 2009 @ 10:45 pm

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