China won’t ‘fire first shot’ in trade dispute with United States, as tariff deadline nears

But Beijing makes it clear it is ready to retaliate if Washington’s threats of punitive action become a reality

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 8:55pm

China said it will not “fire the first shot” in the event of its trade dispute with the United States moving beyond threats and into the realm of concrete action.

Washington said earlier it would implement 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion worth of Chinese products on Friday, to which China responded by saying it would retaliate with punitive action of the same scale and on the same day.

That raised concerns that Beijing, being 12 hours ahead of Washington, might actually strike first. But comments made by the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council, China’s cabinet, suggest that is unlikely.

“The Chinese government has stated its position many times that we will absolutely not fire the first shot, and we will not impose tariffs ahead of the US,” it said in a brief statement on Wednesday afternoon.

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Nonetheless, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that China “was prepared” to hit back.

“[If] the US launches the tariff list, China will take every necessary measure to firmly defend its interests,” he said in a daily press briefing.

The US Trade Representative Office said on June 15 that customs and border protection agencies would begin collecting the additional duties from Friday, though it did not specify an exact time of day.

US President Donald Trump had earlier threatened to impose additional tariffs on up to US$450 billion worth of Chinese products, while Beijing said it would apply “qualitative and quantitative” countermeasures.

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US officials have warned American companies that operate in China of pain ahead, with the first round of tariffs set to take effect. Business leaders are worried they will be subject to reprisals such as delays in the approval of Chinese licences, prolonged takeover reviews and exclusion from procurement contracts.

Chinese state media on Wednesday criticised the US for imposing tariffs. Tabloid newspaper Global Times, which is owned by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, said the escalating trade dispute would create chaos around the world.