U.S. and China Spar Over Trade and Narratives


May 20, 2020


As Washington and Beijing clash openly over the WHO and their respective responses to the coronavirus pandemic, Predata analytics reveal emerging supply chain concerns and resurgent disinformation efforts.

Concern over Semiconductor Supply Chains

Amid clashes over pandemic response, the Trump Administration banned on May 15 the use of American-made equipment or software in the production of chips procured by Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Surprisingly, the move did not prompt increased online attention to the U.S.-China Trade War—it was much higher in April when the Trump Administration threatened new tariffs against China. Instead, it was attention to the global semiconductor supply chain, which stands to be heavily impacted by the new U.S. regulations, that increased. In particular, attention to major producers such as Taiwan’s TSMC—which has already halted orders to Huawei—is at the highest since the United States first banned Huawei from domestic 5G networks last year.

The spike in attention to the semiconductor supply chain may suggest market participants are acutely concerned over the effects of the new restrictions on Huawei, even if it has not yet translated into broader attention to U.S.-China trade tensions.

Disinformation Shifts Back to Bioweapons

In the information space, the narrative that coronavirus may be a U.S. bioweapon became increasingly dominant online in early May. This represents a shift from April, when the narrative that China was a more constructive partner than the United States had the most engagement.

U.S. bioweapon programs and related conspiracy theories recently received the most attention since coronavirus cases first began to mount in the United States and Europe, before China was put on the defensive for its handling of the outbreak. Attention concentrated on themes such as the ‘chemtrail’ conspiracy theory and U.S. military organizations commonly implicated in bioweapon propaganda.

Attention peaked across multiple language audiences including Korean, German, French, Italian, and Japanese. Korean attention spiked most notably in early May, more than double the previous peak in mid-February at the height of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak.

The increased engagement with U.S. bioweapon conspiracy theories may suggest the narrative is being used to pin responsibility for the pandemic back on the United States as China deflects criticism for how it handled its own outbreak. Should the United States continue to ramp up economic pressure, China has shown it can respond by attempting to shift the narrative by calling into question the United States’ response to the pandemic and global leadership.

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