China had “real cause for concern” after US President-elect Donald Trump chose outspoken China critic Peter Navarro for a top trade position, Chinese media reports said Friday, as they warned of a potential trade war.

Trump has picked Navarro to head the White House National Trade Council, a new office that will oversee trade and industrial policy, in the latest sign he is moving ahead with plans to overhaul US economic policy.

donald trump china
A copy of the local Chinese magazine Global People with a cover story that translates to “Why did Trump win” is seen with a front cover portrait of US president-elect Donald Trump at a news stand in Shanghai on November 14, 2016. Photo: AFP/Johannes Eisele.

The novice politician’s promise to return US manufacturing jobs moved abroad by attacking what he describes as unfair competition from China was a central pillar of his campaign platform.

Navarro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, has written books such as “Death by China,” in which he criticises Beijing for waging economic war by subsidising its manufacturing industry and blocking American imports.

He has been hailed by Trump as “a visionary economist”, but the Global Times newspaper cited Chinese experts as saying that his hawkish opinions were pure hype and he was “not an expert on China”.

Peter Navarro
Peter Navarro. Photo: C-Span screenshot.

Though Beijing could brush off Trump’s anti-China rhetoric during the election season as mere campaign-trail bluster, the appointment of people like Navarro “who have a bias against China” to influential posts was “no laughing matter”, the state-owned China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.

Trump’s choice now gave the Asian giant “real cause for concern”, it said, stating that Chinese companies in the US should be on “high alert”.

Yu Jianlong, secretary-general of the China Chamber of International Commerce, told the paper that China had no desire for trade disputes with the new US administration.

“However, if the US keeps imposing inadequate trade remedy investigations on Chinese products, the country would have no choice but to confront the challenge,” he said.

China needed to prepare for a potential trade war by identifying which products it could get from other countries and areas where it had comparative advantages, Jin Canrong, a professor of international studies at Renmin University, told the Global Times.

Donald Trump.
Donald Trump. Photo: Wikicommons.

At a regular press briefing Thursday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Beijing was paying close attention to Trump’s transition team and how they would make policy.

“We hope that the American side will join us in maintaining the sound and steady growth of the bilateral relationship, economic relations and trade included,” she said, adding that “cooperation is the only right choice”.

But an editorial in the Global Times, which often takes a nationalistic tone, warned that it was time to wake up to the reality that Trump was assembling a team of hardliners.

“If Washington dares to provoke China over its core interests, Beijing won’t fear setting up a showdown with the US, pressuring the latter to pay respect to China,” it said.

“The US can no longer push China around today.”

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