At last week’s meeting between top Chinese and US officials in Alaska, diplomats from both sides exchanged fiery criticism of each other’s policies. While the talks didn’t yield any diplomatic results, in China they’ve yielded a slew of new T-shirts and other patriotic merchandise.
Hundreds of T-shirts, phone cases, canvas bags, lighters, and umbrellas have surfaced on Chinese e-commerce sites like Taobao and Pinduoduo, carrying remarks made by Yang Jiechi, a top Chinese diplomat, at the first high-level in-person meeting between the two countries since president Joe Biden took office. Yang attended the talks with the country’s foreign minister Wang Yi and uttered phrases that appear to have been well-received at home, including “stop interfering in China’s internal politics,” and “the US does not have the qualification to speak to us in a condescending manner.”
A customized phone case vendor on Taobao told Chinese state-owned outlet Global Times that they received “hundreds of orders” for products carrying these slogans soon after the two-day meeting ended on March 19, while a T-shirt maker told the publication they have produced 300 pieces of clothes printed with those remarks. Taobao and Pinduoduo didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
Ahead of the talks, some Chinese state media had expressed the hope that the meeting would be “the first step to reset” the two countries’ “problematic ties” under former president Donald Trump.
Instead, it began with a testy one-hour public exchange between the Beijing diplomats and their US counterparts, the secretary of state Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor. While the US challenged Beijing on issues like its crackdown on Hong Kong, and alleged abuses in Xinjiang, the Chinese officials accused the US of bullying other countries and having a flawed human rights record itself. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of more than two hours of private discussions, a US official said the two sides had a “substantive, serious and direct” dialogue.
Beijing has seized the meeting as an opportunity to showcase China’s rise by referencing the country’s painful memories of being humiliated by foreign powers. The Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, posted a photo of the Chinese and US diplomats at the Alaska talks alongside another one featuring officials from China’s Qing dynasty with representatives of foreign countries. Shared by the outlet on Friday before the conclusion of the meeting, the images are aimed at showing the stark contrast between the tough-talking Chinese diplomats who are able to confront US officials today, and the weak Qing politicians—from the country’s last imperial dynasty—who signed the Boxer Protocol, agreeing to pay reparations and make other concessions to Western powers in 1901. It was one of the last of what China calls “unequal treaties,” forced on it by more powerful nations.
As of Monday, the post, published on the outlet’s Weibo account, has been shared over 230,000 times (link in Chinese) and received around nearly 2 million “likes,” while a hashtag about the Alaska meeting has been viewed nearly 3.4 billion (link in Chinese) times.