BEIJING — The United States is “holding a knife to our neck” to force trade concessions, a top Chinese official said Tuesday, a day after the two sides imposed another round of punishing tariffs.
With both Beijing and Washington holding their ground, the dispute between the world’s two largest economies looks set to rumble on with no obvious end in sight.
“Our door is open for the resumption of trade consultations and negotiations, but to make the negotiations effective, they should be based on mutual respect and treating each other as equals,” Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen told reporters.
“But the U.S. has imposed such large trade restrictions, it is like they are holding a knife to our neck,” he added.
A Chinese delegation had been expected in Washington this week for talks on resolving the trade dispute, but the visit was canceled after President Trump last week announced tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese goods — televisions, toys and more. That means that about half of the products that Americans buy from China now have an extra 10 percent duty added.
Beijing responded by announcing it would impose tariffs of 5 percent to 10 percent on an additional $60 billion of U.S. goods, including meat, liquefied natural gas and more. The new tariff regime took effect Monday.
In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Trump stuck to a hard line on China.
“I have great respect and affection for my friend President Xi [Jinping], but I have made clear that our trade imbalance is just not acceptable,” Trump said. “China’s market distortions and the way they deal cannot be tolerated.”
In Beijing, officials also showed no intention of backing down. State media outlets were a chorus of defiance Tuesday, portraying Washington as an unreasonable bully.
“If the Trump administration continues to stick to its unilateral and protectionist stance, and refuses to respect the fundamental norms of mutual respect and consultation, it would be difficult for the two sides to make substantial progress in any future trade talks,” the China Daily said in an editorial.
China would not give in but also would not retaliate indefinitely, said another paper, the Global Times.
“China is a country that sticks to principle,” the state-backed newspaper said in an editorial. “This makes China strategically firm when facing pressure. Unprincipled compromise will only lead to worse scenarios.”
Many analysts here say that Trump has left Beijing with little room to maneuver. Announcing the latest round of tariffs, the president warned that he would slap duties on the remaining $267 billion worth of products that China exports to the United States if Beijing tries to retaliate.
“It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to hit you in the face, and if you fight back, I’m going to hit you some more,’ ” said Yu Yongding, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “How can they expect Chinese diplomats to go to the United States to negotiate? It’s too much.”
Liu He, China’s point man on trade negotiations with the United States, had been expected to travel to Washington this week for talks with officials from the Treasury Department and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. However, the trip was scrapped as the war of words and tariffs escalated.
“Trump thought he could bully China into kowtowing to him. But that’s a very stupid strategy,” Yu said.
The latest round of sanctions has made it less likely, not more, that China would enter into talks, said Mei Xinyu, a researcher at a Commerce Ministry think tank in Beijing.
“Trump wants to make it look like China is being coerced into accepting a deal, and of course China will not play along with that,” Mei said.
To make a deal, the demands need to be reasonable, he said. “The American side wants to force China to make a deal under the threat of tariffs on $267 billion worth of Chinese imports. But this idea is wrong.”
To bolster its claim to being the reasonable party in the dispute, the Chinese government Monday released a white paper to “clarify” the facts around the trade friction.
But the paper, which state media outlets uniformly noted was 36,000 characters long, as if this somehow made it more reliable, tried to portray China as the bastion of global economic liberalism trying to protect itself — and the rest of the world — from a unilateralist Trump.
It sharply criticized the “protectionism” of the “America First” policy of the U.S. administration — without singling out Trump by name.
“Faced with a host of grave challenges to human progress, all countries, particularly major countries, need to shoulder the obligation and responsibility of guiding and promoting international cooperation,” the paper concluded, urging rejection of a “Cold War mentality” in which trade is a “zero sum game.”
The paper, filled with tables and case studies, cited research by the U.S. China Business Council, Washington think tanks and Goldman Sachs. It also used examples involving General Motors, Intel and Apple to show why bilateral trade was in the best interest of the United States.
This message was reinforced Tuesday when Fu Ziying, China’s international trade representative, described why the trade war was not in the United States’ interest.
“The so-called strategy of containing China does not represent the direction of the development of human society,” he told reporters. “If you look at history, war in all its forms — whether it be a trade war or a real war — comes with a huge price. It will be the people that will suffer in the end.”