Chinese officials and experts on Thursday strongly criticized a potential investigation that the U.S. government is said to be launching into China's trade practices and warned that any unfair measure against China would draw a strong response and inflict damage on both economies.
Experts also urged relevant government agencies and industries to prepare countermeasures, including filing complaints at the WTO and tit-for-tat probes into U.S. companies and products, to protect their interests from what they describe as "bullying" from the U.S.
The U.S. government is reportedly mulling opening a broad investigation against China's trade practices, under a domestic law known as Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. The investigation, which could come in the coming days, could result in steep tariffs or restrictions on Chinese imports, according to U.S. media reports.
Such prospects drew strong criticism and stern warnings in Beijing on Thursday.
The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), while reiterating China's willingness to work with the U.S. over trade issues through dialogue and cooperation, warned that a potential fight over trade between China and the U.S. could hurt both.
"The China-U.S. trade relationship is… mutually beneficial. Cooperating would benefit both sides and fighting would hurt both," Gao Feng, spokesman for the MOFCOM, said in response to a question about the potential U.S. trade probe.
The spokesman called on the U.S. to engage in dialogue and consultation with China to address differences regarding bilateral trade and follow WTO rules. "Any member of the WTO should comply with WTO rules when taking any trade measures," he said.
Though the U.S. investigation has not been announced officially and details remain elusive, Chinese experts with ties to the government said that China would not stand idly by any potentially unfair measures from the U.S.
"This is bully negotiating tactics from [U.S. President Donald Trump], trying to pressure China into meeting its unreasonable demands that only benefit the U.S.," said Mei Xinyu, an associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the MOFCOM.
"But China is not what it was two decades ago. Today, we are the world's second-largest economy and largest trading nation. There are many tools we can use to deal with the U.S.," Mei told the Global Times.
Huo Jianguo, vice chairman of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, which is also affiliated with the MOFCOM, also said Trump, with a stalled domestic legislative agenda, is trying to "get anything he can from China to make good on campaign promises and ease pressure."
"If [Trump] wants to make small gains by picking a fight with China, I think he is seriously miscalculating and might be picking up a stone that could crush his own feet," Huo said
Han Bing, an expert at the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China would not accept any demand from the U.S. that would make it give up its own interests. "That's a bottom line," she told the Global Times.
The experts said China has a lot of tools at its disposal to counter the U.S.
Mei said that should the U.S. take unfair measures against Chinese companies and products, such as imposing higher tariffs and restrictions on imports, China could do the same for U.S. companies and products.
"This could cause chaos in both countries' economies and markets," noted Mei.
Another option for China would be using the WTO mechanism to protect its legal interests, according to Huo, who also participated in negotiations for China's entry into the WTO.
"Though the process should take a long time, it's an ideal way to protect our interests while avoiding further confrontation."
The experts also said that China should start looking into different industries that are likely to be targeted in the U.S. investigation and build a case against any U.S. accusations, while also reassessing the overall China-U.S. trade relationship to prepare for potential turmoil.
The U.S. move, though it would have limited impact on China economically, could reverse a positive trend in the China-U.S. relationship established during meetings between the leaders of the two countries in Florida and in Germany on the sidelines of the G20 summit, experts said.