"It's true that the base on which they can put on additional tariffs is much narrow than the U.S.," said Ludovic Subran, global head of macroeconomic research at Allianz and chief economist at Euler Hermes.

But Subran and other international trade experts warn not to count China out too quickly.

"The first thing to observe here is that China is not a country of laws -- it's an authoritarian dictatorship... so from that opening point, China is potentially able to play much, much dirtier than the United States," said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who warned that American businesses could take the punishment for Trump's antagonism.

"He will essentially force the Chinese government to retaliate in other ways -- and those other ways can be much more costly to American firms," he said. "That belief is premised on a fundamentally erroneous assumption about how the modern economy works... and a lack of concern with how engaged American businesses are involved already in China."

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