Trump’s warning shot

WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump lit a slow-burning fuse on Thursday to launch long-promised anti-China tariffs, but his actions appeared to be more of a warning shot than the start of a full-blown trade war with Beijing.

A presidential memorandum signed by Mr Trump will target up to $US60 billion ($F121b) in Chinese goods with tariffs over what his administration says is misappropriation of US intellectual property, but only after a 60-day consultation period that starts once a list is published.

Mr Trump also gave the Treasury Department 60 days to develop investment restrictions aimed at preventing Chinese-controlled companies and funds from acquiring US firms with sensitive technologies.

The waiting periods will give industry lobbyists and US lawmakers a chance to water down a proposed target list that runs to 1300 products, many in technology sectors.

It also will create space for potential negotiations for Beijing to address Mr Trump’s allegations on intellectual property and delay the start of immediate retaliation against US products from aircraft to soybeans.

“I view them as a friend” Mr Trump said of the Chinese as he started his announcement. “We have spoken to China and we are in the middle of negotiations.”

But his actions provoked a belligerent response from China’s embassy in Washington, which vowed Beijing would “fight to the end” in any trade war with the United States.

“We will retaliate. If people want to play tough, we will play tough with them and see who will last longer,” Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai said in a video posted to the embassy’s Facebook page.

Stocks fell sharply on Mr Trump’s announcement, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling nearly 3 per cent. Major industrials that could become targets of Chinese trade retaliation slumped further, with aircraft maker Boeing down 5.2 per cent and earthmoving equipment maker Caterpillar falling 5.7 per cent.

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