Trump ricks more than a trade war by targeting China

President Donald Trump's vow to enact revenge on China for "killing" the US on trade was a signature refrain of the 2016 campaign, but his latest tough talk risks stoking an adversarial economic standoff with Beijing that could prompt geopolitical retaliation on issues ranging from North Korea to the South China Sea.

Trump's surprise announcement on Thursday that the US will institute tariffs on steel and aluminum imports has upset stock markets, angered US allies around the world and even drawn criticism from members of his own party -- but whether it represents the start of a global trade war is likely to depend on China's reaction.

Beijing's immediate response Friday was measured in tone -- urging the US "to abide by the multilateral trade rules and make contributions to the international trade and economic order" -- and concerns about potential retaliation for the tariffs have largely centered on China imposing its own punishing economic measures.

But Chinese officials have previously warned they are willing to do what they think is necessary to "defend our rights" should Trump introduce additional measures that target the Communist nation more heavily and directly.

In addition to the vast array of painful economic response options at its disposal, China could target US geopolitical interests if Trump escalates trade tensions.

"When we go to the next step and take action against China on investment and trade that will be much more significant, and then you will see their response spill over into other areas," according to Wendy Cutler, a former diplomat and negotiator who serves as the vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

One concern is that China could respond to a more focused American trade campaign by slowing its cooperation on implementing sanctions against North Korea, a key component of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure campaign" to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table over its nuclear programs.
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