China has warned it’s fully prepared to respond with a “fierce counterstrike” of fresh trade measures if the US follows through on President Donald Trump’s threat to slap tariffs on an additional $US100 billion ($A130 billion) of Chinese goods.
Trump, in light of what he called China’s “unfair retaliation” against earlier US trade actions, had upped the ante on Thursday by ordering US officials to identify extra tariffs, escalating a tit-for-tat confrontation with potentially damaging consequences for the world’s two biggest economies.
China’s Commerce Ministry spokesman, Gao Feng, called the US action “extremely mistaken” and unjustified, adding that the spat was a struggle between unilateralism and multilateralism. He also said no negotiations were likely in the current circumstances.
“The result of this behaviour is to smash your own foot with a stone,” Gao told a news briefing in Beijing. “If the United States announces an additional $US100 billion list of tariffs, China has already fully prepared, and will not hesitate to immediately make, a fierce counterstrike.”
While US officials said they were prepared to talk the issues through with China, there was no clear path to communication. Both Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow were on television to promote the idea of talks, with Mnuchin telling CNBC “we are in communication regularly”.
Gao was speaking shortly after Trump defended his proposed tariffs on US radio, saying the move might cause “a little pain” but the US will be better off in the long run.
Asked in an interview with New York station WABC about the effect on US stock markets, Trump said the market has gone up (since he took office) “so we might lose a little bit of it”.
“So we may take a hit and you know what, ultimately we’re going to be much stronger for it.”
Financial markets have been roiled by the prospect of threats becoming action and US stocks tumbled on Friday as investors worried about an escalating trade war.
Kudlow told Bloomberg Television Trump and America’s top trade official Robert Lighthizer were “thinking about submitting a list of suggestions to the Chinese”.
On Wednesday, China unveiled a list of 106 US goods including soybeans, whiskey, frozen beef and aircraft targeted for tariffs, just hours after the Trump administration proposed duties on some 1300 Chinese industrial, technology, transport and medical products.
Washington called for those $US50 billion in extra duties after it said an investigation had determined that Chinese government policies are designed to transfer US intellectual property to Chinese companies and allow them to seize leadership in key high-technology industries of the future.
China said it was not afraid of a trade war, even though it did not seek one, and accused the US of provoking the conflict. Gao said comments from US officials about ongoing talks about trade issues were incorrect.
“Under these conditions, the two sides cannot conduct any negotiations on this issue,” Gao said, without elaborating.
Kudlow, who has repeatedly sought this week to soothe markets with mention of possible talks, told Bloomberg Television there were always ongoing discussions on trade between the US and China but that negotiations on the tariffs had not begun.
Seeking to tamp down alarm, he told reporters outside the White House, “so nothing’s happened. Nothing’s been executed … There’s no ‘there’ there yet, but there will be.”
While Beijing calls Washington the aggressor and says it is spurring global protectionism, China’s trading partners have complained for years that it abuses World Trade Organisation rules and propagates unfair policies that lock foreign firms out of some sectors. China has promised repeatedly to open up sectors such as financial services.