has promised a policy of "America First" and bringing back jobs, ostensibly lost to China. He has also threatened tariffs on goods imported from the Asian giant and chosen
a group of outspoken China critics for top positions
on trade policy.
However, Beijing has an array of tools to strike back with, and the message from the state is it will use them. China's state-backed Global Times said in an English editorial after the U.S. presidential election that:
"A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. U.S. auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and U.S. soybean and maize imports will be halted. China can also limit the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S."
"There's an array of things China could do that are not trade related that would enable them to persuade in a personal way," Kroeber said, adding that Beijing could also make China a tougher business environment for U.S. companies operating there.
In the last few weeks, China's president, Xi Jinping, and other top Chinese leaders have also stepped up efforts to promote China as a globalization-friendly alternative to Trump's protectionist stance. The power play is especially important this year. Xi is set to consolidate his authority at a Communist Party congress this fall.
The political support for free trade rhetoric is more divided in the U.S.
"Trump also needs to show he's making things better for the American worker," Shapiro said. "He's also limited" in power due to the U.S. democratic system of checks and balances.
The challenge is if trade tensions escalate, Shapiro said, "the U.S. is going to be hurt anyways" from disruption to the supply chain. Many products sold in the U.S. are partly or wholly manufactured in China.
To be sure, it's still unclear whether U.S-China tensions will heat up into a trade war that decimates one party over the other. China's economy is by no means as advanced as that of the United States, but can increasingly hold its own while U.S. presidents come and go. Meanwhile, deep business relations between the two countries will be complicated to unravel.
"I don't see trade as a zero-sum game where, if one country benefits the other loses," said Ira Kalish, chief global economist at Deloitte. "Certainly both countries depend on one another substantially."