A China-US trade war over tariffs is coming

What we know about how China plans to react if Trump goes through with his tariffs pledge

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 22, 2018 1:15PM (EDT)

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump (Getty/Thomas Peter)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump (Getty/Thomas Peter)

President Donald Trump is planning on announcing his new tariffs on China as early as Thursday.

"Tomorrow the president will announce the actions he has decided to take based on USTR’s 301 investigation into China’s state-led, market-distorting efforts to force, pressure, and steal U.S. technologies and intellectual property," a Trump official explained on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Although the size and scope of the tariffs remains unclear, it is expected that they will go after China's high-technology sector as well as its companies' investments in the United States. One justification for imposing the new tariffs was found in the results of an investigation by the United States under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act. Investigators found that China had stolen from and coerced American companies to disclose their intellectual property, as well as bought information about technology from American companies using government funds.

The Trump administration has also accused China of currency manipulation in order to facilitate sales of its exports, according to CNBC. The president himself has also made it clear that he dislikes China's $375 billion goods trade surplus with the United States, which he has characterized as unfair and as taking advantage of America. If Trump's tariff announcement winds up impacting $60 billion worth of Chinese exports, as some experts predict, that will account for more than 10 percent of the goods China exported to the United States in 2017.

"China will certainly take all necessary measures to resolutely defend its legitimate rights and interests," the Ministry of Commerce declared in a statement on Thursday.

"It's unrealistic and unreasonable to demand complete equality in trade. We hope that both sides can sit down and talk calmly," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying explained to reporters on Thursday.

China's state-run newspaper Global Times went even further, arguing that Trump was being "arrogant and naïve" in risking a trade war with their country and pointing out that they could retaliate by attacking America's agriculture sector, which is heavily reliant on Chinese consumers.

"If China halves the proportion of the U.S. soybean imports, it will not have any major impact on China, but the U.S. bean farmers will complain. They were mostly Trump supporters. Let them confront Trump," the Global Times wrote.

Although Trump has been an outspoken protectionist since the 1980s, in recent years he has particularly focused on Chinese trade policies, even before he became president.

And Trump's rhetoric has only escalated over time. During a campaign rally in 2016, Trump declared, "We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world." In 2012, he claimed to have not been surprised that China would try to cheat at the Olympics because "that's the Chinese M.O. - Lie, Cheat & Steal in all international dealings."

During a "Good Morning America" interview in 2015, Trump said that the Chinese "are fierce people in terms of negotiation. They want to take your throat out, they want to cut you apart. These are tough people. I've dealt with them all my life."

However, Trump has turned to China as an ally when it comes to dealing with North Korea.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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