China on Friday accused the United States of starting “the biggest trade war in economic history” as US tariffs took effect on Chinese goods worth $34 billion.
“China is forced to strike back to safeguard core national interests and the interests of its people,” the country’s Commerce Ministry said in a statement after US tariffs kicked in just after midnight ET, which is noon in Beijing.
The Trump administration’s 25% tariffs are targeting Chinese products such as industrial machinery, medical devices and auto parts.
The Commerce Ministry statement didn’t provide details on its retaliation. Beijing has said previously it would fire back against an equal value of US exports, including SUVs, meat and seafood.
Even before Friday, the trade dispute between the world’s top two economies had rattled markets and prompted warnings from companies of damage to their bottom lines and higher prices for consumers.
The big question is how far the hostilities between Washington and Beijing will go.
The United States is also set to impose 25% tariffs on another $16 billion in Chinese exports later in the summer, and China has vowed to retaliate against US goods worth a similar amount.
Economists say that if the back-and-forth stops there, the overall impact on both economies will be minimal even though some industries will suffer.
But Trump has said his administration will respond to retaliation from Beijing with much bigger waves of tariffs, raising the prospect of worsening tit-for-tat reprisals. On Thursday, he suggested the possibility of tariffs on almost $500 billion more of Chinese goods.
He described the potential escalation to reporters aboard Air Force One: “Thirty-four, and then you have another 16 in two weeks and then, as you know, we have 200 billion in abeyance and then after the 200 billion we have 300 billion in abeyance. OK?” Trump said. “So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300.”
That amount is higher than an earlier threat from Trump to target as much as $450 billion of Chinese exports. It’s also bigger than the $505 billion of goods that the United States imported from China last year.