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5 Ways China May Try To Win A Trade War With The U.S.

A farmer harvests his soybean crops near Farmingdale, Ill. Because China is major importer of America's soybeans, the sector is one predicted target for tariff retaliation.
Seth Perlman
A farmer harvests his soybean crops near Farmingdale, Ill. Because China is major importer of America's soybeans, the sector is one predicted target for tariff retaliation.

"Trade wars are good, and easy to win," President Trump tweeted earlier this month after announcing heavy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The president's claim will soon be tested after he unleashes a raft of tariffs on about $50 billion worth of Chinese exports to the United States in retaliation for China's theft of U.S. technology and trade secrets.

China has been preparing for such action and will undoubtedly strike back in a variety of ways. Here are a few tacks China may take to retaliate:


The United States exported more than 30 million tons of soybeans — worth more than $10 billion — to China last year, over 57 percentof total U.S. exports of the popular legume. This week, the Chinese state-run tabloid Global Timessaid in an editorial that U.S. government subsidies have given American soybean farmers an unfair advantage in China and that strong restrictive measures will be needed to prevent further "dumping" of U.S. soybeans in the Chinese market. China could rely more on South America for soy: Brazil exported more soybeans than ever last year — nearly 51 million tons — and nearly all of it went to China. Should China take measures against U.S. soybean imports, it would likely hurt American farmers, a base of support for Trump.


The U.S. aircraft giant manufactures more than half of all commercial jetliners operating in China today. Last November, Boeing signed an agreement to sell 300 planes to China worth $37 billion. And in its market outlook, the company predicted rising airplane demand from China. In 2016, Boeing's then-vice chairman, Ray Conner, said Chinese orders support about 150,000 American jobs. China may reduce orders from Boeing in favor of planes from European rival Airbus.


China has already launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into imports of the grain from the United States as retaliation for the Trump administration's steep tariffs on Chinese solar panels and washing machines earlier this year. China is the top buyer of America's sorghum. Last year, the U.S. supplied 4.76 million of China's 5 million metric tons of sorghum imports, a quantity worth $1.1 billion. China could retaliate after its investigation wraps up, expected next February.


China is a major market for the iPhone maker. Apple also depends on China's workforce to make most of its products. As a result, China's government has enormous leverage over the company and could, as it has in the past, target Apple for violating Chinese consumer rights.

General Motors

GM sells way more vehicles in China than in the United States. China has been GM's largest retail market for six years straight. The carmaker and its joint ventures sold 4 million vehicles in China in 2017, up 4.4 percent from the previous high a year earlier. Chinese automakers like Geely and BYD are competing for market share, though, and China could make it more difficult for both GM and Ford to operate on Chinese soil. In late 2016, China fined GM's China joint venture $29 million for "price fixing," or setting minimum prices for certain Cadillac, Chevy and Buick models. The fine followed comments from the then-President-elect Trump questioning the "One China" policy, in which Washington acknowledges Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of China.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.