The White House has announced a 25 percent tariff on $50bn worth of Chinese goods over “unfair trade practices”.
The goods targeted by the levies “contain industrially significant technologies”, a White House statement said on Friday.
“In light of China’s theft of intellectual property and technology and its other unfair trade practices, the United States will implement a 25 percent tariff on $50bn of goods from China that contain industrially significant technologies,” the statement read.
Beijing responded within minutes to Washington’s announcement, saying they would impose tariff measures “of the same scale and strength”.
“China is unwilling to have a trade war, but the Chinese side has no choice but to strongly oppose this, due to the United States’ myopic behaviour that will harm both parties,” the commerce ministry website said.
Earlier on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang told journalists that Beijing would fight back.
“If the US side adopts unilateral measures of protectionism and damages China’s interests, then we will respond right away, and take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard our own legitimate rights and interests,” Geng said.
Trump has long vowed to fulfil his campaign pledge to clamp down on what he considers unfair Chinese trading practices.
The first set of tariffs covering about $34bn in imports will come into effect on July 6, a statement issued by the US Trade Representative (USTR) said on Friday.
The statement said an investigation had found that “China’s acts, policies and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are unreasonable and discriminatory, and burden US commerce.”
The second tranche of products will undergo further review. It includes a list of products which USTR argues have benefited from Chinese industrial policies, including the Made in China 2025 policy.
Launched in 2015, the policy sets out to turn the world’s second-biggest economy into an advanced manufacturing “superpower” while setting self-sufficiency quotas.
Political and economic affairs analyst Einar Tangen told Al Jazeera he believes the timing of the tariffs may have to do with Trump’s “domestic woes”, including a lawsuit against the US president and his children over his charitable foundation.
“It’s Donald Trump controlling the news cycle,” Tangen said. “It does play into his base, that he is attacking China. This is what he’s promised to do and it is working for him in terms of raising his popularity.”
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher said some have suggested Trump may feel emboldened by his meeting earlier this week with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“Before, China was needed to try and keep North Korea in check particularly when it came to its nuclear ambitions. [Trump] now believes he has built up this great relationship with the North Korean leader,” Fisher said.
“Because [Trump] believes he perhaps no longer needs the power of China when it comes to dealing with North Korea, he feels emboldened to take this step on trade tariffs.”
But some economists have argued that the US might be the worse-off party in the event of a trade war.
“The [Chinese] communist party has its hand on so many of the levers of economic development and economic expansion in China that they might be able to weather this storm slightly better than the US,” Fisher said.