In response to US tariffs imposed last Friday, Beijing threatened to investigate alleged US dumping of auto and chicken parts. But both categories would only allow limited retaliation.
Beijing has reacted sharply to President Obama's decision Friday to slap stiff import tariffs on cheap Chinese tires. Chinese officials have cried foul, railed against Washington's protectionism, and announced they will investigate allegations of US dumping in China at below-market prices.
But Beijing's bark may turn out to be worse than its bite. China's choice of dumping complaints to investigate – about chicken parts and auto parts – seems designed to minimize the impact of any retaliatory measures it might take.
Certainly Beijing sounded angry at Mr. Obama's decision, which will throttle China's exports to the US of low-cost tires. US union leaders had complained that such sales had destroyed 4,000-5,000 American jobs.
"This will undermine China-US economic and trade ties, and the early recovery of the world economy," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu in a statement.
China hits back
The Chinese Commerce Ministry was quick to hit back at Washington. On Sunday, it said it would look into complaints by local producers of chicken meat and auto parts that American competitors had "entered our markets via dumping, subsidies, and other unfair trade means."
That sparked fears of a trade war, just two weeks before Obama is due to host Chinese President Hu Jintao in Pittsburgh, Penn., at a meeting of G-20 heads of state. The US president is also planning to visit Beijing in November.
But an escalation of the tiff seems unlikely. "Sino-American relations in general are better than ever," says Shi Yinhong, an expert on US affairs at Beijing's Renmin University. "I don't think a trade dispute can do that much damage. Both sides will try to stop this spilling over into something more serious."