What’s even more revealing about China’s choices are the U.S.-made products that haven’t made any tariff list. They include civilian aircraft and their engines and parts, which had a 2018 export total of $17.73 billion. They include semiconductors and their components, which last year had China shipments that totaled several billion additional dollars. They include the equipment needed to manufacture and inspect semiconductors and their parts, which racked up at least $850 million in 2018 exports to China; devices for conducting chemical and physical analyses (with $912 million in China exports last year); laser equipment ($304 million), motor vehicles, auto parts, and plastics resins and polymers (which each produced billions in exports to China); and billions of dollars’ worth of other products that the Chinese either can’t (yet) make or can’t make in the amounts that they need—or that consist of goods preferred by Chinese consumers over their Made in China counterparts.
America’s tariff lists for Chinese goods have contained any number of obscure, exotic products as well. But from the start, they’ve been dominated by products valued highly by China’s leaders for their industrial and technological importance—especially those covered by the Made in China 2025 program aimed at achieving Chinese global dominance throughout advanced manufacturing and information technology sectors. Subsequently, the Trump administration has added the kinds of consumer products on which the PRC relies heavily for both export earnings and its own domestic employment.
Xi made China’s bid for hegemon status too soon, probably having assumed continued American acquiescence or a President Hillary Clinton — which amounts to the same thing.