The guide to hot-and-cold U.S.-China trade relations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 10:11am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 3:50pm

This story is being published by the South China Morning Post as part of a content partnership with POLITICO. It was written by Megan Cassella and originally appeared on on May 29, 2018.

The White House’s announcement Tuesday morning to move forward with tariffs and import restrictions on China is the latest in a series of tit-for-tat trade actions that President Donald Trump and top members of his administration have taken.

The move reignites trade tensions once again between the world’s two largest economies and comes as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is preparing to go to Beijing later this week for further talks that were supposed to be geared toward reducing the bilateral trade deficit between the two countries that Trump has long sought to narrow.

His trip also comes at a time when the administration has been in a hot-and-cold relationship with Beijing. Here’s a look at some of the interactions the Trump administration has had with China over trade in the past several months that have led up to this point:

August 18, 2017

An investigation begins

President Trump directs the Commerce Department to start an investigation into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property and handling of foreign companies’ proprietary data.

January 22, 2018

Solar panels hit with tariffs

The administration imposes duties on imports of washing machines and solar panels. The action affects all imports but the U.S. trade representative specifically cites “artificially low-priced solar cells and modules from China” as reason for that portion of the action.

March 1, 2018

Trump starts a fight on steel and aluminum imports

Trump promises to impose steep tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from nearly all countries, angering allies and trading partners who view China as the root cause of the global overcapacity.

March 22, 2018

Trump vows tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports

President Donald Trump unveils extensive new trade restrictions that would effectively block $50 billion in Chinese imports from entering the United States.

March 23, 2018

Steel and aluminum tariffs take effect

The president says he will temporarily exempt six countries and the European Union from the 25 percent in steel tariffs and 10 percent on aluminum, but China, Japan and other countries are not excluded.

April 2, 2018

China retaliates

China responds to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs by introducing duties on 128 U.S. goods worth $3 billion, including several agricultural products like pork.

April 3, 2018

The tech trade fight begins in earnest

The Trump administration wraps up its investigation into China’s practices by releasing a list of products worth $50 billion it plans to target with tariffs.

April 4, 2018

China readies to hit back, round 2

China vows to retaliate against the $50 billion goods targeted with its own list of U.S. imports it will hit, aiming at agricultural products like soybeans as well as cars and aircraft.

April 5, 2018

Trump demands more tariffs

Trump instructs the trade representative’s office to consider imposing tariffs on another $100 billion in Chinese goods as a result of the alleged forced transfers of technology and other proprietary information. He also directs the Agriculture secretary to look for ways to shield farmers from retaliation by China.

April 6, 2018

China fires back, round 3

China vows to retaliate against the latest tariffs ‘at any cost,’ but says it will only take action after Trump’s duties go into effect.

April 9, 2018

ZTE battle begins

Commerce suspends export privileges of Chinese telecom giant ZTE, barring U.S. companies from doing business with it for up to seven years.

April 18, 2018

China retaliates, round 4

China threatens to push back against the Trump administration’s move to punish ZTE with unspecified steps to safeguard Chinese interests.

May 4, 2018

A step forward at the negotiating table

Trump administration officials return from Beijing after two days of trade talks, which helped reduce fiery rhetoric on both sides. But few see that progress was made.

May 9, 2018

ZTE says it is forced to cease operations

The Chinese telecom giant halts its main business operations as a result of the Commerce Department order, but says it is working with the U.S. government to try to facilitate a “modification or reversal” of the April decision.

May 13, 2018

Trump undercuts Commerce’s ZTE decision

In a surprise move, the president pledges on Twitter to rescue ZTE, saying Commerce’s punishment is hurting too many Chinese jobs.

May 14, 2018

Ross flips to Trump’s stance on ZTE

The Commerce secretary retreats from his initial pledge to punish ZTE by saying his agency is exploring “alternative remedies” to the situation.

May 18, 2018

Softening the trade war rhetoric

After a Chinese economic delegation heads to Washington for a second round of trade talks, White House officials say China has pledged to cut the trade deficit by $200 billion. China also says it has ended an investigation on imports of U.S. sorghum, which is used mainly for animal feed, saying it determined the tariffs were not in the public interest and would increase costs for consumers. The official joint statement, though, doesn’t mention specific dollar amounts.

May 20, 2018

Mnuchin says the trade war is ‘on hold’

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offers the most definitive take coming out of the U.S.-China meetings when he declares the administration is “putting the trade war on hold” as long as talks continue to move forward.

May 29, 2018

Trump readies tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods

Trump upends the short-lived detente in U.S.-China trade tensions with a statement pledging to move forward with tariffs, investment restrictions and a case at the World Trade Organization in order to protect U.S. intellectual property.

June 2-4, 2018

Ross heads to Beijing

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been tasked with taking the lead on a trip to Beijing to negotiate the terms of an agreement in which China will purchase more U.S. agricultural and energy products.

June 15, 2018

Tariff list to be released

The Trump administration is set to unveil a final list of products worth $50 billion that it will target with 25 percent tariffs in a bid to protect U.S. intellectual property. The tariffs are slated to go into effect “shortly thereafter.”

June 30, 2018

Investment restrictions to be revealed

The Trump administration is set to unveil broader investment restrictions and enhanced export controls in order to “protect our national security.” The restrictions are set to take effect “shortly thereafter.”