U.S. tariffs against Chinese imports took effect early Friday and President Donald Trump made clear Thursday that he is prepared to sharply escalate a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.
The administration started imposing tariffs at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time Friday on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, a first step in what could become an accelerating series of tariffs. China has promised a swift retaliatory strike on an equal amount of U.S. goods.
Shortly after the tariffs took effect, China said it is “forced to make a necessary counterattack” to a U.S. tariff hike on billions of dollars of Chinese goods but gave no immediate details of possible retaliation.
The Commerce Ministry on Friday criticized Washington for “trade bullying” following the tariff hike that took effect at noon Beijing time in a spiraling dispute over technology policy that companies worry could chill global economic growth.
A ministry statement said, “the Chinese side promised not to fire the first shot, but to defend the core interests of the country and people, it is forced to make a necessary counterattack.”
Beijing earlier released a list of American goods targeted for possible tariff hikes including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey.
Hostilities could grow
Trump discussed the trade war Thursday with journalists who flew with him to Montana for a campaign rally. The president said U.S. tariffs on an additional $16 billion in Chinese goods are set to take effect in two weeks.
After that, the hostilities could intensify: Trump said the U.S. is ready to target an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports — and then $300 billion more — if Beijing refuses to yield to U.S. demands and continues to retaliate.
That would bring the total of targeted Chinese goods to potentially $550 billion, which is more than the $506 billion in goods that China actually shipped to the United States last year.
The Trump administration has argued that China has deployed predatory tactics in a push to overtake U.S. technological dominance. These tactics include cyber-theft as well as requiring American companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to China’s market.