China can hit US firms where it hurts in tariff response

Photo: Reuters
President Donald Trump’s latest move to ratchet up tariffs on Chinese goods raises the spectre that China could strike back by tripping up US companies doing business in the Asian nation -- and tech is especially vulnerable.

On Tuesday, the US said it will impose a 10 per cent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese-made products, from food to electronics by August 30. That adds to an already-announced $50 billion in tariffs that could raise prices on almost half of everything the US buys from China. President Xi Jinping has vowed to strike back.

China’s imports from the US aren’t large enough to match Trump’s tariffs dollar for dollar, but the country has other levers it could use, such as imposing new taxes and added regulation on US companies that already operate in China, or encouraging citizens to boycott American products. Combining US corporate revenue in China with exports to the country actually gives the US a surplus of $20 billion, according to Deutsche Bank AG.

US-based companies that derive the highest proportion of their revenue in China are dominated by semiconductor makers and other electronics manufacturers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Monolithic Power Systems Inc., a San Jose, California-based component maker, tops the list with about 60 per cent of its sales coming from China. Apple Inc., Nvidia Corp. and Broadcom Inc. all generate more than 20 per cent of their sales in the country.

China has used non-tariff tactics in the past. South Korean and Japanese companies have been targeted during times of political tension with increased regulation, harsh new consumer safety rules and mass boycotts inspired by China’s state-run media. Apple only recently staged a comeback in China, one of the company’s most important markets. Tesla Inc. just announced plans to build a Chinese assembly plant but still needs to secure approvals and permits.

The government could also block mergers and acquisitions between US and Chinese companies. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed Chinese officials, reported that China is considering delaying merger approvals. NXP Semiconductors NV, which is waiting for Chinese approval for its acquisition by Qualcomm Inc., fell as much as 4.7 per cent, the most since May 17. Qualcomm fell 1.8 per cent.

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