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China files WTO challenge to Trump's US tariffs threat

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, center, gestures during a joint press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at right and European Council President Donald Tusk in Beijing on Monday. Picture by Ng Han Guan, Associated Press
Joe McDonald, Press Association

China has filed a World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenge to US president Donald Trump's latest tariff threat, stepping up its diplomatic efforts to counter US pressure in a spiralling technology dispute.

The Trump administration has criticised the WTO as unable to deal with the problems posed by China, suggesting a challenge there might have little impact in Washington.

However, it might help Beijing rally support from governments which have criticised Mr Trump for going outside the WTO to impose tariffs on Chinese and other imports.

The move is unusually swift, coming less than one week after the US Trade Representative proposed 10 per cent tariffs on a $200 billion (£151bn) list of Chinese goods. Those would not take effect until at least September.

China's lopsided trade balance means it will run out of US imports for penalty tariffs before Washington does. Beijing is trying to recruit support – so far in vain – from Europe, South Korea and other governments.

"We are unable to fight equally," said Tu Xingquan, director of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Monday's move "indicates that we value the role of the WTO rules", the expert added.

Washington imposed 25 per cent tariffs on $34bn worth (£25bn) of Chinese goods in response to complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

Beijing responded immediately by imposing identical penalties on a similar amount of American imports.

It has criticised the latest tariff threat but has only about $80bn (£60bn) of annual imports left for penalties.

As for why Beijing has not retaliated, "there might be some adjustment in China's approach to countermeasures," said Mr Tu.

Economists and business groups have suggested Beijing might try to disrupt operations of American companies, especially service industries, in which the United States runs a surplus. But Chinese officials have tried to appeal to American companies as allies.

A commerce ministry spokesman said last week Beijing hoped they would lobby Washington to protect their own interests.

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