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‘The Trump Administration Is Behaving Like a Gang of Hoodlums.’ Words Fly as U.S.-China Trade War Begins

With the U.S. on Friday hitting China with tariffs on $34 billion in imports, and China immediately striking back with equivalent levies, the Sino-American trade war is officially on. And as with any good fight, there’s a lot of trash talk on both sides.

So let’s mark the start of the conflict with a collection of some of the most illuminating quotes from the Chinese and American camps—bear in mind that the Chinese administration’s views are generally expressed through state media—and from observers of the spat, who are worried about where this will go.

The Americans

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responding earlier this week to a question about how the U.S. is winning the trade battle: “The President is focused not on the short term but on the long term, and he wants to make sure that we’re doing things that help protect American workers and protect American industry. And he is going to keep pushing to make sure that we have good trade deals. We have been in trade deficits with nearly every country across the globe for years, and the President wants to ensure that that doesn’t continue.”

President Donald Trump, warning of subsequent rounds of tariffs affecting pretty much all Chinese exports to the U.S.: “You have another 16 (billion dollars) in two weeks, and then, as you know, we have $200 billion in abeyance and then after the $200 billion, we have $300 billion in abeyance. Ok? So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300.”

The Chinese

China Daily: “The U.S.’ $34 billion tariffs on Chinese goods violates the WTO rules and has set off the largest trade war in economic history, demonstrating a typical hegemonic attitude against the rules of world trade, said a statement by the [commerce] ministry.”

Also China Daily: “The Trump administration is behaving like a gang of hoodlums with its shakedown of other countries, particularly China.”

Xinhua, the Chinese state-run press agency: “Such a protectionist tool will directly impact enterprises worldwide, including those of the United States, and does not jibe with international rules on resolving trade problems. Washington is sowing the seeds of its own defeat in the end…Tariffs will negate gains made by the public from tax reforms and deregulation, push up U.S. production costs, damage the competitiveness of businesses and their workers, and force companies to look outside the U.S. to maintain production.”

Global Times (English version of newspaper owned by the People’s Daily): “Why does the administration of Donald Trump engage in a trade confrontation with China? So far, there is no complete explanation. Some believe he wants more votes. Others think he really wants to address the US trade deficit issue with China. Some contend that containing China’s technological progress is his real purpose and that is why the list of tariffs targets Chinese industries such as aerospace, telecoms and artificial intelligence… Washington does not have the right to ask Beijing not to develop something and it is impossible for China to listen to its command… If the U.S. is determined to escalate conflicts with China, then so be it. Perhaps the Trump administration can only clear its mind after a fight.”

The experts

Société Générale economists Stephen Gallagher and Yao Wei, quoted in the South China Morning Post regarding the effects on the rest of the world: “One channel of spillovers is via weakened demand from the two largest economies in the world; and the other equally important and likely quicker transmission would be along global value chains.”

Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, quoted in the New York Times: “At the moment, I don’t see how this ends. This is very much in the president’s hands because he’s got advisers that seem divided, some substantively, some tactically. I just don’t think we’ve had any clear signs of the resolution he wants.”

Robert Holleyman, Crowell and Moring partner and former Obama trade representative, quoted in India’s Economic Times: “If we don’t find an exit ramp, this will accelerate like a snowball going down a hill.”