China says it won't give in to US 'blackmail' on trade tariffs

China has fired back at President Donald Trump’s latest tariff escalation, saying it won’t yield to “blackmail.”

Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen said he’s baffled at how the US administration appeared to put a trade war on hold after talks in May, only to slap tariffs on Chinese imports a few days later.

"If one party does not honour its words, talks cannot succeed," Wang said in an interview in Geneva on Wednesday. For negotiations to succeed, "no party should point a gun at the other party," he said.

The US is escalating its trade war with China by starting a process to impose 10% tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods. The levies announced on Tuesday, together with some $50bn in the works, stand to raise import prices on almost half of everything the US buys from China.

China "never yields to threat[s] or blackmail," Wang said in separate written comments to Bloomberg. "The US side ignored the progress, adopted unilateral and protectionist measures, and started the trade war."

The tariffs, which could go into effect as soon as this fall, are in addition to the 25% duties Trump imposed on $34bn worth of Chinese goods July 6.

Talks stalled

The world’s two largest economies haven’t held publicly announced talks since a visit to Beijing by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in June that achieved no breakthroughs.

While China "demonstrated utmost sincerity to stabilise trade relations with the US," the Trump administration "did not honour its words, chopping and changing all the time," Wang said.

"The US behaviour represents a typical ‘trade bully,’ posing a grave threat to the global value chain," Wang said. "It will hamper global economic recovery, hurting many businesses and ordinary people around the world. It will harm the interest of companies, employees and consumers in both China and the US."

Retaliation threat

Wang said China won’t hesitate to retaliate against the Trump administration’s "completely groundless" tariffs announced on Tuesday. He defended Beijing’s response to the last round of American duties, saying its measures are in line with domestic law and international rules.

World Trade Organisation officials are concerned that if the US and China engage in a tit-for-tat trade war using unilateral domestic laws rather than the WTO’s dispute settlement processes they will undermine the Geneva-based organisation’s ability to arbitrate global trade conflicts.

"It’s time for anyone who cares about the health of the economy to sit up and take notice," WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said in a July 5 tweet. 

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