By Lingling Wei
Updated July 5, 2018 10:32 a.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal
BEIJING—As the U.S. and China gear up to slap each other with tariffs Friday, Beijing’s leadership faced the thorny question of whether to strike first, or let Washington take the lead.
In response to the Trump administration’s plan to impose tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese products starting 12:01 a.m. Eastern time Friday, China pledged to retaliate with levies of the same value at the same time. But since Beijing is 12 time zones ahead of Washington, that meant China planned to put its tariffs into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday in Beijing, which is noon Thursday in Washington, according to people familiar with the matter.
The arrangement, a Chinese official said Wednesday, reflected Beijing’s determination to start its tariffs on July 6, the same date set by the U.S. for its levies. “It’s the U.S. that started all this,” the official said. “China is fully prepared.”
Later Wednesday, Beijing’s plan shifted. Wary of being seen as provoking the battle, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a statement saying “China absolutely won’t fire the first shot.”
That means Beijing would implement its tariffs starting midday Friday local time—an unusual practice for China, which generally assess duties on a full-day basis, Chinese officials said.