The U.S. and China took another perilous step toward an outright trade war Friday, as Donald Trump threatened to slap tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese imports — a move that prompted Beijing to announce it will fight back “at any cost.”
The latest threats, following the tit-for-tat announcements of steep tariffs earlier in the week, has fuelled fears of spiraling protectionism between the world’s leading economic superpowers. Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska warned that Trump’s escalation was “threatening to light American agriculture on fire.”
Trump announced Thursday he had instructed his chief trade negotiator to consider imposing tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese products.
He said the move was a response to “China’s unfair retaliation” to $50 billion of proposed tariffs on Chinese goods that Washington announced Tuesday, part of a push to combat what the White House says is the theft of U.S. intellectual property by Chinese firms.
China responded Wednesday with its own list of American products worth $50 billion that it said would be hit with tariffs if Washington followed through on its threat, including soybeans, whisky, planes, cars, and chemicals.
“Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers,” Trump said in announcing the latest measure.
Hours later, China shot back, vowing not to back down in the escalating dispute, and saying it would watch for Washington’s next move.
“On the issue of Sino-U.S. trade, the Chinese position has been made very clear. We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war,” read the statement from the Ministry of Commerce.
“If the United States disregards the opposition of China and the international community, insisting on unilateralism and trade protectionism, the Chinese side will follow suit and fight at any cost.”
Representatives for American industries and regions likely to be affected by the escalating tensions urged calm. Dean Garfield, the chief executive of the Information Technology Industry Council, called Trump’s latest threats “irresponsible” and asked “both sides to halt unproductive and escalatory rhetoric, recognizing that these words and actions have global consequences.”
The National Retail Federation urged the Trump administration “to change course and stop playing a game of chicken with the nation’s economy.”
“This is what a trade war looks like, and what we have warned against from the start. We are on a dangerous downward spiral, and American families will be on the losing end,” Matthew R. Shay, the group’s president and chief executive said in a statement.
Others doubted that Trump’s aggressive strategy would pay off against Beijing, a rising global power sensitive not to be seen as backing down to American pressure. An editorial in the state-run Global Times Friday said Trump’s “latest intimidation reflects the deep arrogance of some American elites in their attitude towards China.”
Sen. Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, warned of the damage Trump’s high-stakes strategy strategy could wreak on the economy. “Hopefully the president is just blowing off steam again, but if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” he said. “Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”
But Trump remained defiant in the wake of the announcements, tweeting that his approach would “End Barriers And Massive I.P. Theft” and decrying reports that his actions had led to increased trade penalties from China as “fake news.”
Early Friday he tweeted: “Despite the Aluminum Tariffs, Aluminum prices are DOWN 4%. People are surprised, I’m not! Lots of money coming into U.S. coffers and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!”
He then retweeted a post he had made Wednesday, that said the U.S. had already lost the trade war with China due to the incompetence of previous administrations, and signalling his determination to stamp out intellectual property theft and claw back the trade deficit.
Cover image: President Donald Trump talks with reporters aboard Air Force One on a flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, April 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.