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China has hit back at President Trump’s new plan to impose crippling tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods. In China’s words: “Do not even think about it.”
A trade war has been simmering between the two countries for more than a year. The new tariffs, which are set to go into effect at midnight on Friday, could bring it to a boil.
The message from the Chinese government came hours after U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer confirmed that the White House was making good on Trump’s threat to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent, and impose new tariffs on $325 billion worth of Chinese goods so far untouched in the trade war.
Trump first indicated plans to increase the tariffs in a pair of tweets Sunday, claiming talks to broker a trade deal are moving “too slowly” for his liking.
Trump’s tweet came out of the blue after Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held “constructive” talks with their counterparts in Beijing last week.
The threat also appeared to take Beijing by surprise.
“It was quite unexpected,” said an editorial piece in the People’s Daily, a government mouthpiece. “The U.S. could be gesturing to flip the table to see if they could get more [from the talks].”
But Beijing is showing no signs of backing down. “Things we think are advantageous for us, we will do it even without anyone asking,” the People’s Daily reported on its WeChat account on Tuesday. “When things that are unfavorable to us, no matter how you ask, we will not take any step back. Do not even think about it.”
China has made at least one concession that indicates it is eager to avoid an all-out trade war, however: Beijing confirmed Tuesday that China’s top trade negotiator Liu He will visit Washington on Thursday for two days of talks.
The yearlong trade war has seen tariffs raised on a range of U.S. and Chinese goods, from soybeans to medical equipment. But Trump’s additional tariffs will hit almost everything China exports to the U.S., with consumers feeling the pinch when they buy clothing, toys, shoes, and electronics.
The cause of Trump’s about-face appears to be an attempt by Chinese negotiators to go back on agreements about the treatment of U.S. tech companies. In previous negotiations, China had agreed to stop requiring those companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market. During talks in Beijing last week, Chinese negotiators failed to address the topic, according to sources speaking to the New York Times.
“We’re moving backwards instead of forwards. And in the president’s view, that’s not acceptable,” Lighthizer told reporters on Monday. “Over the last week or so, we have seen an erosion in commitments by China.”
Cover: Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening ceremony for the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China. Aleksey Nikolskyi / Sputnik via AP