China appeals for USA calm after new tariff threat

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"China is fully prepared for the United States' threats to escalate the two countries' trade war and will have to fight back to defend its dignity and the interests of its people", said the statement posted on the Ministry of Commerce's website on Thursday.

"Regrettably, instead of changing its harmful behavior, China has illegally retaliated against USA workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses", he said.

Wang Yi said at a forum in Singapore that a USA campaign to ratchet up pressure on Beijing will not "have any effect", Reuters reported.

The bill has started to mount, with the US government dipping into its coffers to find $12 billion to aid farmers who have been hit by Chinese retaliation.

The Trump administration said Thursday that it was considering increasing the tariff rate on the next $200 billion of goods from 10 percent to 25 percent.

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"If the USA takes measures to further escalate the situation, we will surely take countermeasures to uphold our legitimate rights and interests", a Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokesman said Wednesday, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the proposed escalation. And last week President Donald Trump announced a cease-fire in a potentially destructive dispute with the European Union over trade in cars, trucks and auto parts.

USA threats have escalated since, with the President saying he is ready to impose tariffs on all $500bn of Chinese imports.

Officials, however, downplayed suggestions that the move was meant to compensate for the recent decline in the value of the Chinese currency, which has threatened to take much of the sting out of Trump's tariffs by making imports cheaper.

Lighthizer claimed that Washington has joined forces with like-minded partners around the world "to address unfair trade practices such as forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft, and we remain ready to engage with China in negotiations that could resolve these and other problems detailed in our Section 301 report". Wu called the USA argument that China's State-owned enterprises are government-directed and not market-led "ironic".

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"If we're going to use tariffs, this gives us more flexibility and it's a more meaningful threat", he said.

A U.S. Treasury spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.

While Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has attempted to work out a deal with Beijing, other officials such as Lighthizer have taken a much tougher stance, he says.

The proposal would require a more robust justification from the Department of Defense for "Section 232" tariffs such as those imposed on steel and aluminum imports and those now under consideration for autos.

Mr Wang was firm that any pressure which the USA was trying to put on China would not work.

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