SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China accused the United States of "repeatedly abusing" international trade rules, as Beijing braced on Thursday (March 22) for an imminent announcement from US President Donald Trump slapping more tariffs on Chinese imports.
A World Trade Organisation ruling against Obama-era anti-subsidy tariffs on Wednesday handed China's commerce ministry ammunition to criticise Washington's conduct in trade affairs.
The ruling "proves that the US side has violated WTO rules, repeatedly abused trade remedy measures, which has seriously damaged the fair and just nature of the international trade environment and weakened the stability of the multilateral trading system," the ministry said.
There are growing fears that the world's two largest economies could be sliding towards a trade war as Trump seeks to fulfil election campaign promises to get tough with China over its huge surplus with the United States.
Trump is expected to announce by Friday tariffs on Chinese imports worth up to US$60 billion (S$79 billion), and Beijing, according to the Wall Street Journal, has prepared retaliatory measures.
In the statement posted on its website late on Wednesday, the commerce ministry urged the United States to provide Chinese companies with a "fair and stable international trade environment". The WTO ruled the United States had not fully complied with a 2014 ruling against its anti-subsidy tariffs on a range of Chinese products. However, it also supported the US claim that Chinese exporters were getting subsidies from "public bodies", despite Beijing's assertions to the contrary.
China went to the WTO in 2012 to challenge US anti-subsidy tariffs on Chinese exports including solar panels, wind turbines, steel cylinders and aluminium extrusions.
The tariffs that Trump is expected to announce will aim at curbing theft of US technology by China.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday they would target China's high-technology sector and there could also be restrictions on Chinese investments in the United States. Other sectors like apparel could also be hit.
An editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper said the world should stand together to prevent a trade war, warning that China would not be the Trump administration's only target.
"Since the US seems unlikely to mend its ways, other countries should stop hoping they will be spared its protectionist shots and become more resolute in standing firm against them," the newspaper said.
"History shows the pinpricks of protectionism can ultimately lead to the shots of war somewhere down the line," it said.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that China was preparing to hit back with tariffs aimed at Trump's support base, including levies targeting US agricultural exports, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.
Analysts said US companies like Boeing Co, which sell billions of dollars worth of planes to Chinese airlines, as well as deals which require Chinese approval could also become caught in the cross fire should a trade war break out.
Boeing this week announced a US$3.6 billion order from China Southern Airlines Co Ltd's subsidiary Xiamen Airlines. Chip giant Qualcomm Inc is still waiting for Chinese approval of its proposed US$44 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors NV.
US electric carmaker Tesla Inc is in long-running talks with Shanghai authorities to build a local manufacturing plant in the city, while Chinese state media have called for measures against US soybean imports to China.
"China has a lot of options on the table with respect to potential retaliation," said William Marshall, a Hong Kong-based lawyer who advises US and Chinese clients on investments and disputes.
"Day to day business could become more difficult."