American Allies Urge Trade Peace as China and the US Bump Heads

U.S. allies in Asia called for calm after President

Donald Trump’s

latest tariff moves and said they wanted to avoid a trade war—even Japan, which was made to pay duties on steel that others avoided.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump threatened to impose tariffs on $60 billion in Chinese imports and, as of Friday, his administration put into effect a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum. Japan is the main ally affected by the metals tariffs because the European Union, South Korea, Australia and others won temporary exemptions.

The U.S. moves sparked retaliatory tariffs worth $3 billion by China and spooked markets throughout the region. Tokyo’s Nikkei Stock Average closed 4.5% lower on Friday and the yen, seen as a haven in times of turmoil, rose to its highest level against the U.S. dollar since late 2016. Indexes in South Korea, China and Hong Kong were all down more than 3%.

Japanese trade minister

Hiroshige Seko,

who had repeatedly appealed to U.S. Trade Representative

Robert Lighthizer

and Commerce Secretary

Wilbur Ross

for an exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs, said he was disappointed.

“This measure is extremely regrettable,” he said. But Mr. Seko said he believed there would be “no actual damage” for Japanese steelmakers because U.S. customers can seek individual exemptions for Japanese products.

“If we counter the U.S. steps by engaging in volleys of retaliation, it could really lead to a collapse of the free-trading system. It is very important for Japan to be calm and seek a WTO-centered resolution,” Mr. Seko said, referring to the World Trade Organization.

Australian Prime Minister

Malcolm Turnbull

said he hoped the U.S. and China could work something out “that suits both sides.”

“Donald Trump has said this is the beginning of a negotiation,” Mr. Turnbull said Friday. “The important thing is no one wins in a trade war, no doubt about that.”

South Korean officials, relieved about getting an exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs through May 1, said they were negotiating with the U.S. to ensure that peace would prevail over a longer term. Washington and Seoul are conducting broader talks on revising their 2012 free-trade deal.

A South Korean presidential aide told reporters that Trade Minister

Kim Hyun-chong,

who is on an extended visit to Washington, was engaged in “fierce and intense” talks with the U.S. and “will do his best to the last minute.” Mr. Kim told the semiofficial Yonhap news agency he hoped to win a permanent exemption from tariffs.

Write to Chieko Tsuneoka at, Kwanwoo Jun at and Rhiannon Hoyle at

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