Photo: Reuters

When it comes to swapping insults, China’s state-owned media is in a league of its own. With a heavy helping of bile, the world’s second-largest economy ratcheted up the rhetoric with the United States in a looming trade war by branding neighbor Canada a “US colony.”

In a 477-word media tirade, China picked apart remarks made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday when he announced plans to bring in new regulations to crack down on countries dumping cheap steel and aluminum in foreign markets.

“Canada is a trading nation, and we will not allow North American industries to be hurt or threatened by unfair trade practices, like the diversion of steel and aluminum,” Trudeau said in a statement, without directly naming China.

“Our businesses and workers rely on our integrated industries, and we will take strong action to defend and protect our most important trade relationships. Canada will not be used as a backdoor into other North American markets. Our people have worked hard to be competitive in this global economy, and they deserve a level playing field,” he added.

But Trudeau’s comments sparked outrage in the Global Times, which is run by People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of Beijing.

‘Freaked out’

“[US President Donald] Trump’s announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports earlier this month seems to have freaked out Canada [and it] may be trying to cement the exemption by accusing China of dumping,” the state-owned newspaper said in an editorial on Friday.  

“In fact, Canada is more like a US colony economically, and half of its trade is with the US … But by following the US suit, Canada is acting like a crafty merchant,” it went on to say.

“We despise the way Canada vacillates between China and the US, and won’t readily let this go. Beijing should take punitive measures against Ottawa’s actions that undermine the interests of Chinese business, sending a warning to others,” the editorial added.

Still, President Xi Jinping’s ‘cabinet’ appears to be spooked since the Trump administration rolled out tough measures last month to curb steel and aluminum imports from China.

On Monday, Washington demanded that Beijing should cut tariffs on imported cars and allow access for foreign firms to own majority stakes in domestic financial services companies.

The White House also told China to buy more US-made semiconductors and clamp down on infringements on intellectual property rights. Failure to agree would trigger a new round of punitive tariffs on an array of Chinese goods, escalating trade tensions.

“We’re hopeful that China will work with us to basically address some of these practices,” Peter Navarro, the new US trade adviser, told CNBC earlier this week in a rare note of optimism after Trump slapped up to US$60 billion in tariffs on certain Chinese imports.

In response, Beijing has swung from confrontation to reconciliation. On Thursday, they told the US not to open “Pandora’s Box” and threatened to roll out $3 billion in tariffs on imports ranging from aircraft and related equipment to soybeans and cars.

“The malicious practices of the United States are like opening Pandora’s Box, and there is a danger of triggering a chain reaction that will spread the virus of trade protectionism across the globe,” a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman told the media.

Upbeat note

Premier Li Keqiang struck a more upbeat note on the same day when he was quoted in the government-owned China Daily as telling a delegation from the US Congress that the country was open to dialogue but “fully prepared with countermeasures.”

This comes at a time when Trump is starting to lose patience with Beijing as the trade deficit between the world’s two economic superpowers continues to widen.

In January, China’s exports to the US jumped more than 46% to $21.8 billion, official data from the General Administration of Customs showed, more than double the $10.4 billion reported during the same period in 2017. To underline the problem, the US racked up a record $375 billion deficit with China last year.

“Trump’s trade team has not been able to stem the flood of imports into the country,” Chris Rupkey, the chief economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in New York, said at the time. “Don’t forget it is American companies assembling goods outside the country and then bringing them back in which is the problem with the trade imbalance in goods.”

Indeed, but it will not stop Trump from banging on the ‘balanced trade’ drum with China left whistling in the wind.

Read: Liu’s move as US rearranges pieces on trade spat chessboard

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