President Trump is ratcheting up trade tensions with China, threatening to increase proposed tariffs on Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent.
The higher tariffs, which would apply to some $200 billion in Chinese imports identified by the administration last month, represent an effort to get Beijing to address longstanding unfair trade practices, officials say.
"The Trump Administration continues to urge China to stop its unfair practices, open its market and engage in true market competition," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in a statement. He said the president had asked him to consider increasing the proposed tariffs.
"We have been very clear about the specific changes China should undertake. Regrettably, instead of changing its harmful behavior, China has illegally retaliated against U.S. workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses," Lighthizer said.
Chinese officials said they were prepared to retaliate again with higher tariffs of their own.
"U.S. pressure and blackmail won't have an effect. If the United States takes further escalatory steps, China will inevitably take countermeasures and we will resolutely protect our legitimate right," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a press conference Wednesday.
The higher tariffs are not a done deal. Officials say there will be a comment period for businesses and people affected by the tariffs. Still, the administration's threats represent a significant escalation of trade tensions with China.
"I think it is a very serious situation. I think it would be a very complicated thing to get out of, because I don't see an easy remedy once we go down this path," said Michael Camuñez, president and CEO of Monarch Global Strategies and former U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for market access during the Obama administration.
Camuñez notes that the Trump administration has given mixed signals about how tough it's willing to be with China, and that has complicated efforts to resolve the conflict.
While Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has attempted to work out a deal with Beijing, other officials such as Lighthizer have taken a much tougher stance, he says.
"There are folks in the White House that really think the best approach to China is a very aggressive one, and that position clearly seems to be prevailing," Camuñez says.