Did Trump just start a trade war with China?

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President Trump’s decision Monday to slap tariffs on imports of solar panels and washing machines risks inflaming tensions with China and other big U.S. trade partners.

Trump has long complained about lop-sided trade with countries such as China and South Korea, saying it hurts American workers. But during his first year in the White House, he largely held off on threats to put up new barriers.

That changed this week with the announcement of tariffs, which the U.S. government said are aimed at protecting American companies from cheap foreign imports. Trump is also due to decide on measures against steel and aluminum imports in the coming months.

 

China on Tuesday expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over the move to impose tariffs of up to 30% on U.S. imports of solar panels, saying it “aggravates the global trade environment.”

But experts say it’s too early to determine whether the world’s two largest economies are destined for a damaging escalation of trade measures against each other. The U.S. tariffs announced Monday are not, on their own, a huge provocation to China.

 

“If this is the start of a trade war, the opening salvo was launched with a pea shooter,” said Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It would be “a mistake to exaggerate [the] significance” of the new tariffs, Kennedy added, pointing out that there are already more than 150 other U.S. trade measures in place against various Chinese products.

 

But tensions may heat up in the coming months as Trump decides what action to take on other trade issues.

The U.S. could “bring out the big guns” when it considers the results of a sweeping investigation into alleged Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property, Kennedy said.

 

Photo: BBC / News Source: CNN