As the ongoing trade war between the United States and China continues to heat up, Chinese state media has issued a cautionary message to Washington, using an ominous phrase laden with historical meaning.
“Don’t say we didn’t warn you,” said The People’s Daily in a Wednesday commentary directed at Washington.
“United States, don’t underestimate China’s ability to strike back,” cautioned the headline of the piece.
“We advise the U.S. side not to underestimate the Chinese side’s ability to safeguard its development rights and interests,” said the paper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
“Don’t say we didn’t warn you” is a phrase not used lightly by The People’s Daily. As CNBC noted, the publication has historically only employed the expression ahead of wars and major conflicts, such as China’s border dispute with India in 1962 and the 1979 China-Vietnam War.
Beijing and Washington have been at loggerheads over trade for months, but the battle has escalated in recent weeks.
The U.S. raised tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports from 10% to 25% after a breakdown in negotiations between the two countries in early May. Beijing retaliated by increasing tariffs on many American imports.
The Trump administration then moved to restrict several Chinese companies, including tech giant Huawei, from acquiring critical components like computer chips and software from the U.S. companies without government approval.
Days later, the U.S. granted Huawei a three-month reprieve from the blacklist. Still, the move prompted observers to say the Trump administration had launched a “tech cold war” against Beijing.
China has suggested it’s ready to escalate this battle by halting all exports of rare earth materials to the U.S.
Some 80% of all rare earth imports by the U.S. between 2014 and 2017 were from China, according to the United States Geological Survey. These materials are vital to the production of many magnets and electronics found in a wide range of products including iPhones, electric vehicles, military jet engines and lasers.
In its commentary this week, The People’s Daily explicitly warned the U.S. that Beijing could use rare earth materials as a “counter weapon” in the trade fight.
“Will rare earths become a counter weapon for China to hit back against the pressure the United States has put on for no reason at all? The answer is no mystery,” the publication said.