China’s propaganda machine has taken aim at American soybean farmers as part of its high-stakes trade war with the Trump administration.
The publication last month of a four-page advertising section in the Des Moines Register opened a new battle line in China’s effort to break the administration’s resolve. U.S. farmers are a key political constituency for Trump, and Beijing has imposed tariffs on American soybeans as retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on hundreds of billions in Chinese imports.
China regularly disseminates propaganda in the West through its China Daily newspaper to try to influence public opinion. But the advertorial in the Register was unusual for deploying not a national publication in New York or Washington but a newspaper in the farm state of Iowa.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this in a heartland city,” said Matt Schrader, who edits the China Brief newsletter for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington research institute that monitors China’s actions.
The Iowa newspaper section was explicitly labeled a product of China Daily, China’s official English language newspaper. The articles were clearly geared to try to soften the image of China and its president, Xi Jinping. With headlines ranging from “Dispute: Fruit of a president’s folly” and “Book tells of Xi’s fun days in Iowa” to Kung Fu skill helps light up life path” and “China seeks pacts on robotics,” the message was a not-very-subtle one about the friendly way Beijing wants to be seen in the farm belt.