China threatens 'all necessary measures' if Trump imposes trade tariffs

China warned Thursday it would “take all necessary measures” to defend its interests if President Donald Trump imposes trade sanctions.

Beijing was bracing for an announcement from Trump of tariffs as high as $60 billion on Chinese imports, raising fears that the two countries could be sliding toward a trade war.

The tariffs will be imposed under Section 301 of the 1974 U.S. Trade Act, focusing on Chinese high-tech goods. Trump says Beijing has forced U.S. firms to transfer their intellectual property to China as a cost of doing business there.

Washington is also pressing China to reduce its $375 billion trade surplus with the United States by $100 billion.

“We are firmly opposed to the U.S. side’s unilateralism and trade protectionism,” China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement Thursday, adding that China “will certainly take all necessary measures to resolutely defend its legitimate rights and interests.”

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Echoing those comments, an editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper on Thursday warned that “history has shown the pinpricks of protectionism can ultimately lead to the shots of war somewhere down the line.”

Throughout his election campaign, Trump talked critically about the U.S. trading partnership with China. But the relationship between the two countries is particularly delicate right now as Washington continues to call on China to do more to thwart the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Trump told Asian leaders last year that he would end "chronic trade abuses" that he said have harmed the U.S. "I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it," Trump said at the summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders. "They did not. But I will."

He Weiwen, a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, told Reuters: "At the moment, it's very difficult for the two sides to sit down and talk because the Trump administration seems determined to go this way regardless of China's maneuvers.”

Alastair Jamieson reported from London, Eric Baculinao reported from Beijing.