Battle of TV anchors over US-China trade war ends without fireworks

The face-off between Fox Business anchor Trish Regan and China Global Television Network host Liu Xin disappointed many Chinese viewers after the debate on the trade war turned out to be less fiery than anticipated. PHOTO: YOUTUBE
The face-off between Fox Business anchor Trish Regan and China Global Television Network host Liu Xin disappointed many Chinese viewers after the debate on the trade war turned out to be less fiery than anticipated. PHOTO: YOUTUBE

It was touted as a debate with the promise of cross-continental fireworks as an American right-wing TV anchor battled it out with her Chinese counterpart over the deepening US-China trade war.

But Chinese viewers were left disappointed yesterday when the face-off turned out to be a rather tame interview, with Fox Business anchor Trish Regan asking just a few questions and China Global Television Network host Liu Xin defending China's position with well-worn answers.

The two media personalities, each well-known in their own countries, had traded barbs on social media last week after Ms Regan, 46, accused China on her show of stealing as much as US$600 billion (S$827.6 billion) in intellectual property from the US every year.

That drew a rebuke from Ms Liu, 43, who on her show on the state-run English-language CGTN, blasted Ms Regan for her "economic warmongering".

Ms Regan then defended herself on her show, and tweeted: "Hey China State TV - let's have an honest debate on trade. You accuse me of being 'emotional' and not knowing my facts - wrong! You name the time and place, and I'll be there!"

Ms Liu accepted the invitation.

Yesterday morning, some eager Chinese viewers gathered in their offices to watch a live stream of the show on the Internet after CGTN failed to obtain broadcast rights. Others with no access to the Fox website followed reports on state broadcaster CCTV's blog.

 
 
 

For the first minute, it looked like the encounter was going to be a fiery pow-wow, as the duo inadvertently talked over each other when Ms Liu objected to the host introducing her as "part of the CCP".

"I am not a member of the Communist Party of China and I don't speak for the Communist Party. I am here today only speaking for myself - Liu Xin, a journalist working for CGTN."

A delayed satellite link caused a few more interruptions when the two spoke at the same time, much to the chagrin of patriotic Chinese netizens, who slammed Ms Regan for constantly cutting Ms Liu off.

"The Chinese are too serious. Don't have to be so offended by such small matters. Trish was very relaxed, and we Chinese should also be more relaxed," chided one netizen on China's Twitter-like Weibo, where the showdown was one of the top trends yesterday.

Others took issue with the duration of the segment, arguing that under 20 minutes was too short to encapsulate the complexities of the ongoing trade war.

While Ms Liu largely toed the party line, she admitted that intellectual property infringement and theft of trade secrets were happening. "I do not deny there are IP infringements, there are copyright issues, there (is) piracy and even theft of commercial secrets that (have) to be dealt with," she said. There was a consensus in China that without IP protection, the country cannot grow.

"Of course there are cases where individuals and companies go and steal... there are companies in the United States who sue each other all the time over IP rights. You can't say simply that America is stealing, or China is stealing. This sort of blanket statement is not helpful."

Ms Liu said she was in favour of technology transfer as long as it was paid for and not illegal.

"We all prosper because we learn from each other," she said.

The Chinese anchor also defended China's economic model, saying state-owned enterprises are playing a decreasing role in the economy, as well as China's status as a developing nation. "We want to grow up, we don't want to be dwarfed or poor or under-developed. But don't forget, we have 1.4 billion people, over three times the population of the United States," she said.

Ms Liu said after the interview that she hoped American audiences understand her perspective, and "they will think about it a little bit".

Leading China hawk Michael Pillsbury, author of The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy To Replace America As The Global Superpower, said Ms Liu was "very poised, she was ready to make key points and also to be pleasant".

Addressing Ms Regan, he said: "This is part of the problem President (Donald) Trump's team of negotiators have faced over the past year. The Chinese are very pleasant and essentially deny everything.

"So, we ended up with this 150-page agreement which I think was excellent, in its details and its enforcement, then they backed out of a great deal of it, and now we are at an impasse where there are no talks going on any more."

But Ms Regan on Twitter later described the interview as "a productive conversation".

"We can use a little of that these days," she said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2019, with the headline 'Battle of TV anchors ends without fireworks'. Print Edition | Subscribe