For now, the proposed Chinese penalties appear to be a carefully calibrated response to the American steel and aluminum tariffs, which took effect on Friday. Beijing’s restrictions would affect $2.97 billion worth of American steel, aluminum and pork. That is roughly equivalent to the $2.79 billion worth of steel and aluminum that China exported to the United States last year, according to Commerce Department data.
The goods that Beijing plans to penalize represents about 2 percent of the total size of American exports to China, according to Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“It’s not devastating economically by any stretch but it’s certainly going to hurt those interests in the United States that are trying to export,” Mr. Bown said. He pointed out that the retaliation by China sends “a negative signal, that they are not seeking to de-escalate things.”
China also picked its targets carefully by choosing goods that had political resonance, akin to what the European Union chose to do this month by targeting bourbon, bluejeans and motorcycles, products made in states with Republican politicians or which supported Mr. Trump in his 2016 election victory. In China’s case, pork comes from Nebraska and the Midwest, states that backed Mr. Trump.
“I would say that China’s proposal is quite restrained,” said Song Guoyou, deputy director of the American Studies center at Fudan University in Shanghai. Mr. Song characterized China’s response as “cautious anger.”
That may not last for long, as the trade dispute between Washington and Beijing widens.
In February, China opened an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into sorghum imports from the United States, less than two weeks after the United States said it was imposing tariffs on solar panels and washing machines that were aimed at curbing cheap imports from China and South Korea.
“China is still being moderate and is appropriately counterattacking,” said Li Qiang, chief consultant at Shanghai JC Intelligence Company, an agriculture consulting firm. “Both sides appear to be sounding each other out.”