China Can Hit U.S. Tech Firms Where It Hurts in Tariff Response


President Donald Trump's latest move to ratchet up tariffs on Chinese goods raises the specter that China could strike back by tripping up U.S. companies doing business in the Asian nation -- and tech is especially vulnerable.

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

China's imports from the U.S. 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 U.S. companies that already operate in China, or encouraging citizens to boycott American products. Combining U.S. corporate revenue in China with exports to the country actually gives the U.S. a surplus of $20 billion, according to Deutsche Bank AG.

U.S.-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 percent of its sales coming from China. Apple Inc., Nvidia Corp. and Broadcom Inc. all generate more than 20 percent 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 U.S. 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 percent, the most since May 17. Qualcomm fell 1.8 percent.

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