President Trump threatened Monday to levy tariffs on nearly all of China’s products shipped to the United States unless Beijing agrees to a host of sweeping trade concessions, a dramatic escalation that would enlist American consumers in the brewing U.S.-China commercial conflict.
In a statement, Trump said he had ordered his chief negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, to draw up a list of $200 billion in Chinese products that will be hit with tariffs of 10 percent if China refuses his demands to narrow the yawning U.S. trade deficit and change its industrial policies.
The president warned that he was prepared to hit China with an additional $200 billion in import taxes unless Beijing capitulates.
Such a step would be virtually unprecedented in U.S. history and would put nearly all of the $505 billion in products that the United States imports from China under tariffs.
“The trade relationship between the United States and China must be much more equitable,” Trump said. “The United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”
The move sent Asian markets sliding to new lows with Shanghai closing down 3.78 percent, its biggest drop in two years, and Shenzhen down 5.31 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (HSI) closed down 2.76 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei lost 1.77 percent.
In a statement published shortly after Monday’s announcement, China’s Ministry of Commerce called the move “blackmail.”
“If the U.S. loses its senses and publishes a new list, China will be forced to take comprehensive measures that are both strong in quantity and gravity and will fight back,” it read.
The vow of retaliation was reiterated by a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, at a daily press briefing. “We don’t want a trade war, yet we are not afraid of a trade war,” he said.
An editorial in the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone, said the Trump administration was “gambling” but would lose.
The president is adopting an increasingly aggressive posture in seeking to implement his “America First” trade strategy. He has threatened or imposed tariffs on all major U.S. trading partners, including China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada, in a high-stakes bid to reshape global trade in a way that reopens shuttered American factories.