China Vows to Retaliate if Trump Raises Tariffs

Workers assemble truck tires at a plant in Nantong city in east China’s Jiangsu province last month. (Chinatopix via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — Ratcheting up tension ahead of talks in Washington, China vowed Thursday to defend its interests and retaliate if President Trump goes ahead with more tariff hikes in a dispute over trade and technology.

Beijing will impose “necessary countermeasures” if the increases take effect Friday as planned, the Commerce Ministry said. It gave no details, but a ministry spokesman said Beijing has made “all necessary preparations,” suggesting it might be bracing for worsening conflict.

Trump threw global financial markets into turmoil with Sunday’s threat to raise import duties on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. Trump complained Beijing was trying to backtrack on earlier agreements.

“If the U.S. tariff measures are carried out, China will have to take necessary countermeasures,” said a Commerce Ministry statement. The spokesman, Gao Feng, said later that Beijing has the “determination and ability to defend its own interests.”

The volley of threats reignited jitters about global economic growth, prompting another round of losses on world stock markets.

If tariff hikes go ahead, “risks of a financial market collapse, extreme risk aversion, and sharp slowdown in global growth will spike,” Philip Wee of DBS Group said in a report.

In early trading Thursday, London’s benchmark FTSE 100 index dropped by 0.5% and France’s CAC 40 lost 1.3%. Hong Kong’s main benchmark skidded 2.4% and the Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.5%. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 lost 0.9%.

Before this week’s acrimony, both sides said negotiations were making progress, which helped to stabilize financial markets. But economists warned a deal might be further away than investors hoped.

Trump raised duties on $250 billion of Chinese imports starting in July over complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. That includes a 25% charge on $50 billion of goods and 10% on $200 billion.

Washington is pressing Beijing to roll back plans for government-led creation of Chinese global competitors in robotics, electric cars and other technologies. The United States, Europe, Japan and other trading partners say those violate Beijing’s market-opening commitments.

U.S. officials also want Beijing to reduce subsidies they say violate Chinese free-trade pledges and to reduce its multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States.

Beijing responded with penalties on $110 billion of U.S. imports, but is running out of goods for tariff hikes due to the lopsided trade balance.

China’s economy czar, Vice Premier Liu He, was leaving Thursday for Washington, according to Gao, the government spokesman.

Liu expressed hope the two sides will “meet each other halfway and care for each other’s concerns,” Gao said. However, he added, “at the same time, China has made all possible preparations.”

Chinese authorities already have extended retaliation beyond imports by targeting operations of U.S. companies in China. Regulators have slowed down customs clearance for their shipments and delayed issuing licenses in finance and other industries.

Beijing has an array of other weapons, including launching tax, anti-monopoly or other investigations that can hamper company operations.

Chinese leaders see industry development directed by the Communist Party as a path to prosperity and global influence. They deny that their plans violate Beijing’s trade commitments but have offered to change details that provoke the most foreign opposition.

“China is not afraid of conflict,” said the Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily that is known for its nationalist tone. It said Beijing has measures in place to “minimize losses” for its companies.

“Mentally and materially, China is much better prepared than its U.S. counterpart,” the newspaper said.

Despite such bluster, factories in Chinese coastal regions that serve the U.S. market have been devastated. Industries including electronics that the Communist Party is promoting as China’s economic future have suffered declines of up to 40% in sales to the United States.

That has increased pressure on President Xi Jinping, who political analysts say faces criticism within the ruling party that he has failed to manage Trump.

Chinese exports to the United States plunged by 13% from a year ago in April and are off 9.7% since the start of 2019. Total Chinese exports sank by 2.7% in April, well below forecasts of growth in low single digits.

Imports of American goods tumbled by 26%.

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