China blamed US export restrictions for its record trade surplus with the United States, but expressed hope that a solution can be found to settle trade issues between the world's two biggest economies as US tariffs loom.
Beijing was bracing on Thursday for an announcement from US President Donald Trump of tariffs of as much as $60 billion on Chinese imports, raising fears that the two countries could be sliding towards a trade war.
The tariffs will be imposed under Section 301 of the 1974 US Trade Act, focusing on Chinese high-tech goods. Trump says Beijing has forced US firms to transfer their intellectual property to China as a cost of doing business there.
Washington is also pressing China to reduce its staggering $375 billion trade surplus with the United States by $100 billion.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was unfair to throw around criticism about unfair trade if the United States won't sell to China what it wants to buy, referring to US export controls on some high-tech products.
“How many soybeans should China buy that are equal to one Boeing aircraft? Or, if China buys a certain number of Boeing aircraft should the US buy an equal number of C919s?” Hua said, mentioning China's new self-developed passenger jet.
However, China still hopes it can hold constructive talks with the United States in a spirit of mutual respect to seek a win-win solution, she added.
US agricultural exports to China stood at $19.6 billion last year, with soybean shipments accounting for $12.4 billion. Chinese penalties on US soybeans will especially hurt Iowa, the state that backed Trump in the 2016 presidential elections and is home to US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad.
Some Americans believe that China can't find a substitute for US soybeans, but that's an “arrogant and naive” idea, China's Global Times said in an editorial on Thursday.
The widely read state-run tabloid is run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, though its stance does not necessarily equate with Chinese government policy.
Boeing jets have also been often cited as a potential target by China, which has been developing the C919 as part of its civil aerospace ambitions.
The US plane manufacturer, which has the biggest market share in China, said last year it expects China to buy more than 7,000 Boeing jets worth $1.1 trillion over the 20 years to 2036.
“With regards to the Section 301 investigation, China has expressed its position on many occasions that we resolutely oppose this type of unilateral and protectionist action by the US,” the Commerce Ministry said on Thursday. “China will not sit idly by while legitimate rights and interests are hurt. We must take all necessary measures to firmly defend our rights and interests.”
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday the tariffs 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.
Jacob Parker, Beijing-based vice president of China operations at the US-China Business Council, said the group wanted to know what action the US administration wants China to take to improve protection for intellectual property, and over forced technology transfer.
“It's really important for them to lay that out so that we have a strategy going forward and it's not just tariffs for tariffs' sake.”
Parker said China needs to adopt a tougher deterrent against counterfeiting and IP theft, and do away with joint venture and business licensing requirements that can be used to mandate technology transfers to gain market access.
“At the moment, it's very difficult for the two sides to sit down and talk because the Trump administration seems determined to go this way regardless of China's manoeuvres,” said He Weiwen, a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank.