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China vows to fight US 'at any cost' as trade spat worsens

Jill Colvin and Gillian Wong, Associated Press | 4/6/2018, 7:20 a.m.
China vowed on Friday to fight the U.S. "at any cost" after President Donald Trump proposed slapping an additional $100 ...
President Donald Trump waves as walks from Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 5, 2018, after returning from a trip to West Virginia. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — China vowed on Friday to fight the U.S. "at any cost" after President Donald Trump proposed slapping an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods in an escalating trade dispute between the world's two largest economies.

Trump's surprise move Thursday to instruct the U.S. trade representative to consider the additional tariffs came a day after Beijing announced plans to tax $50 billion in American products, including soybeans and small aircraft, in response to a U.S. move this week to slap tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports.

In Beijing, the Commerce Ministry said China doesn't want a trade war — but isn't afraid to fight one.

"China will dedicate itself to the end and at any cost and will definitely fight back firmly" if the U.S. persists in its "protectionism," the ministry said in a statement.

Trump's proposal intensified what was already shaping up to be the biggest trade battle since World War II. Global financial markets had fallen sharply as the world's two biggest economies squared off over Beijing's aggressive trade tactics. They calmed down Wednesday and Thursday on hopes the U.S. and China would find a diplomatic solution but slid Friday after Beijing said it would fight the Trump administration's latest threats.

The White House announced after the markets closed Thursday that Trump had instructed the Office of the United States Trade Representative to consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate and, if so, to identify which products they should apply to. He's also instructed his secretary of agriculture "to implement a plan to protect our farmers and agricultural interests."

"China's illicit trade practices — ignored for years by Washington — have destroyed thousands of American factories and millions of American jobs," Trump said in a statement announcing the decision.

The latest escalation comes after the U.S. on Tuesday said it would impose 25 percent duties on $50 billion of imports from China, and China quickly retaliated by listing $50 billion of products that it could hit with its own 25 percent tariffs. The Chinese list Wednesday included soybeans, the biggest U.S. export to China, and aircraft up to 45 tons (41 metric tons) in weight. Also on the list were American beef, whiskey, passenger vehicles and industrial chemicals.

Earlier in the week, Beijing announced separate import duties on $3 billion of U.S. goods in response to the Trump administration's duties on all steel and aluminum imports, including from China.

U.S. officials have sought to downplay the threat of a broader trade dispute, saying a negotiated outcome is still possible. But economists warn that the tit-for-tat moves bear the hallmarks of a classic trade rift that could escalate. And already, the tensions have rattled global stock markets.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer called China's move "unjustified" and said Trump's proposal was an "appropriate response to China's recent threat of new tariffs."

"Such measures would undoubtedly cause further harm to American workers, farmers, and businesses," he said in a statement. "Under these circumstances, the President is right to ask for additional appropriate action to obtain the elimination of the unfair acts, policies, and practices identified in USTR's report."